Skip to main content

Makale: Learning Contact-Rich Manipulation Skills with Guided Policy Search

Autonomous learning of object manipulation skills can enable robots to acquire rich behavioral repertoires that scale to the variety of objects found in the real world. However, current motion skill learning methods typically restrict the behavior to a compact, low-dimensional representation, limiting its expressiveness and generality. In this paper, we extend a recently developed policy search method and use it to learn a range of dynamic manipulation behaviors with highly general policy representations, without using known models or example demonstrations. Our approach learns a set of trajectories for the desired motion skill by using iteratively refitted time-varying linear models, and then unifies these trajectories into a single control policy that can generalize to new situations. To enable this method to run on a real robot, we introduce several improvements that reduce the sample count and automate parameter selection. We show that our method can acquire fast, fluent behaviors after only minutes of interaction time, and can learn robust controllers for complex tasks, including stacking large lego blocks, putting together a plastic toy, placing wooden rings onto tight-fitting pegs, and screwing bottle caps onto bottles.

Makale: Incentivizing Exploration In Reinforcement Learning With Deep Predictive Models

Achieving efficient and scalable exploration in complex domains poses a major challenge in reinforcement learning. While Bayesian and PAC-MDP approaches to the exploration problem offer strong formal guarantees, they are often impractical in higher dimensions due to their reliance on enumerating the state-action space. Hence, exploration in complex domains is often performed with simple epsilon-greedy methods. To achieve more efficient exploration, we develop a method for assigning exploration bonuses based on a concurrently learned model of the system dynamics. By parameterizing our learned model with a neural network, we are able to develop a scalable and efficient approach to exploration bonuses that can be applied to tasks with complex, high-dimensional state spaces. We demonstrate our approach on the task of learning to play Atari games from raw pixel inputs. In this domain, our method offers substantial improvements in exploration efficiency when compared with the standard epsilon greedy approach. As a result of our improved exploration strategy, we are able to achieve state-of-the-art results on several games that pose a major challenge for prior methods.

Makale: End-to-End Training of Deep Visuomotor Policies

Policy search methods based on reinforcement learning and optimal control can allow robots to automatically learn a wide range of tasks. However, practical applications of policy search tend to require the policy to be supported by hand-engineered components for perception, state estimation, and low-level control. We propose a method for learning policies that map raw, low-level observations, consisting of joint angles and camera images, directly to the torques at the robot’s joints. The policies are represented as deep convolutional neural networks (CNNs) with 92,000 parameters. The high dimensionality of such policies poses a tremendous challenge for policy search. To address this challenge, we develop a sensorimotor guided policy search method that can handle high-dimensional policies and partially observed tasks. We use BADMM to decompose policy search into an optimal control phase and supervised learning phase, allowing CNN policies to be trained with standard supervised learning techniques. This method can learn a number of manipulation tasks that require close coordination between vision and control, including inserting a block into a shape sorting cube, screwing on a bottle cap, fitting the claw of a toy hammer under a nail with various grasps, and placing a coat hanger on a clothes rack.

Makale: Learning Visual Feature Spaces for Robotic Manipulation with Deep Spatial Autoencoders

Reinforcement learning provides a powerful and flexible framework for automated acquisition of robotic motion skills. However, applying reinforcement learning requires a sufficiently detailed representation of the state, including the configuration of task-relevant objects. We present an approach that automates state-space construction by learning a state representation directly from camera images. Our method uses a deep spatial autoencoder to acquire a set of feature points that describe the environment for the current task, such as the positions of objects, and then learns a motion skill with these feature points using an efficient reinforcement learning method based on local linear models. The resulting controller reacts continuously to the learned feature points, allowing the robot to dynamically manipulate objects in the world with closed-loop control. We demonstrate our method with a PR2 robot on tasks that include pushing a free-standing toy block, picking up a bag of rice using a spatula, and hanging a loop of rope on a hook at various positions. In each task, our method automatically learns to track task-relevant objects and manipulate their configuration with the robot’s arm.

Makale: Learning Deep Control Policies for Autonomous Aerial Vehicles with MPC-Guided Policy Search

Model predictive control (MPC) is an effective method for controlling robotic systems, particularly autonomous aerial vehicles such as quadcopters. However, application of MPC can be computationally demanding, and typically requires estimating the state of the system, which can be challenging in complex, unstructured environments. Reinforcement learning can in principle forego the need for explicit state estimation and acquire a policy that directly maps sensor readings to actions, but is difficult to apply to underactuated systems that are liable to fail catastrophically during training, before an effective policy has been found. We propose to combine MPC with reinforcement learning in the framework of guided policy search, where MPC is used to generate data at training time, under full state observations provided by an instrumented training environment. This data is used to train a deep neural network policy, which is allowed to access only the raw observations from the vehicle’s onboard sensors. After training, the neural network policy can successfully control the robot without knowledge of the full state, and at a fraction of the computational cost of MPC. We evaluate our method by learning obstacle avoidance policies for a simulated quadrotor, using simulated onboard sensors and no explicit state estimation at test time.