Scalable Identification of Partially Observed Systems with Certainty-Equivalent EM

International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML), ArXiv

System identification is a key step for model-based control, estimator design, and output prediction. This work considers the offline identification of partially observed nonlinear systems. We empirically show that the certainty-equivalent approximation to expectation-maximization can be a reliable and scalable approach for high-dimensional deterministic systems, which are common in robotics. We formulate certainty-equivalent expectation-maximization as block coordinate-ascent, and provide an efficient implementation. The algorithm is tested on a simulated system of coupled Lorenz attractors, demonstrating its ability to identify high-dimensional systems that can be intractable for particle-based approaches. Our approach is also used to identify the dynamics of an aerobatic helicopter. By augmenting the state with unobserved fluid states, a model is learned that predicts the acceleration of the helicopter better than state-of-the-art approaches. The codebase for this work is available at this https URL.

Structured Mechanical Models for Robot Learning and Control

Learning for Dynamics and Control Conference (L4DC), ArXiv

Model-based methods are the dominant paradigm for controlling robotic systems, though their efficacy depends heavily on the accuracy of the model used. Deep neural networks have been used to learn models of robot dynamics from data, but they suffer from data-inefficiency and the difficulty to incorporate prior knowledge. We introduce Structured Mechanical Models, a flexible model class for mechanical systems that are data-efficient, easily amenable to prior knowledge, and easily usable with model-based control techniques. The goal of this work is to demonstrate the benefits of using Structured Mechanical Models in lieu of black-box neural networks when modeling robot dynamics. We demonstrate that they generalize better from limited data and yield more reliable model-based controllers on a variety of simulated robotic domains.


EnsembleDAgger: A Bayesian Approach to Safe Imitation Learning

IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), ArXiv

Abstract: While imitation learning is often used in robotics, this approach often suffers from data mismatch and compounding errors. DAgger is an iterative algorithm that addresses these issues by aggregating training data from both the expert and novice policies, but does not consider the impact of safety. We present a probabilistic extension to DAgger, which attempts to quantify the confidence of the novice policy as a proxy for safety. Our method, EnsembleDAgger, approximates a GP using an ensemble of neural networks. Using the variance as a measure of confidence, we compute a decision rule that captures how much we doubt the novice, thus determining when it is safe to allow the novice to act. With this approach, we aim to maximize the novice’s share of actions, while constraining the probability of failure. We demonstrate improved safety and learning performance compared to other DAgger variants and classic imitation learning on an inverted pendulum and in the MuJoCo HalfCheetah environment.


Deep Reinforcement Learning for Event-Driven Multi-Agent Decision Processes

IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, ArXiv

Abstract: The incorporation of macro-actions (temporally extended actions) into multi-agent decision problems has the potential to address the curse of dimensionality associated with such decision problems. Since macro-actions last for stochastic durations, multiple agents executing decentralized policies in cooperative environments must act asynchronously. We present an algorithm that modifies generalized advantage estimation for temporally extended actions, allowing a state-of-the-art policy optimization algorithm to optimize policies in Dec-POMDPs in which agents act asynchronously. We show that our algorithm is capable of learning optimal policies in two cooperative domains, one involving real-time bus holding control and one involving wildfire fighting with unmanned aircraft. Our algorithm works by framing problems as “event-driven decision processes”, which are scenarios in which the sequence and timing of actions and events are random and governed by an underlying stochastic process. In addition to optimizing policies with continuous state and action spaces, our algorithm also facilitates the use of event-driven simulators, which do not require time to be discretized into time-steps. We demonstrate the benefit of using event-driven simulation in the context of multiple agents taking asynchronous actions. We show that fixed time-step simulation risks obfuscating the sequence in which closely separated events occur, adversely affecting the policies learned. In addition, we show that arbitrarily shrinking the time-step scales poorly with the number of agents.