Monthly Archives: December 2023

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They had to do it: Certified RL (through online reward shaping/definition)

Hosein Hasanbeig, Daniel Kroening, Alessandro Abate, Certified reinforcement learning with logic guidance, Artificial Intelligence, Volume 322, 2023 DOI: 10.1016/j.artint.2023.103949.

Reinforcement Learning (RL) is a widely employed machine learning architecture that has been applied to a variety of control problems. However, applications in safety-critical domains require a systematic and formal approach to specifying requirements as tasks or goals. We propose a model-free RL algorithm that enables the use of Linear Temporal Logic (LTL) to formulate a goal for unknown continuous-state/action Markov Decision Processes (MDPs). The given LTL property is translated into a Limit-Deterministic Generalised B�chi Automaton (LDGBA), which is then used to shape a synchronous reward function on-the-fly. Under certain assumptions, the algorithm is guaranteed to synthesise a control policy whose traces satisfy the LTL specification with maximal probability.

Meta-RL: given a distribution of tasks, learn a policy capable of adapting to any new task from the task distribution with as little data as possible

Jacob Beck, Risto Vuorio, Evan Zheran Liu, Zheng Xiong, Luisa Zintgraf, Chelsea Finn, Shimon Whiteson, A Survey of Meta-Reinforcement Learning, arXiv:2301.08028 [cs.LG], 2023 DOI: 10.48550/arXiv.2301.08028.

While deep reinforcement learning (RL) has fueled multiple high-profile successes in machine learning, it is held back from more widespread adoption by its often poor data efficiency and the limited generality of the policies it produces. A promising approach for alleviating these limitations is to cast the development of better RL algorithms as a machine learning problem itself in a process called meta-RL. Meta-RL is most commonly studied in a problem setting where, given a distribution of tasks, the goal is to learn a policy that is capable of adapting to any new task from the task distribution with as little data as possible. In this survey, we describe the meta-RL problem setting in detail as well as its major variations. We discuss how, at a high level, meta-RL research can be clustered based on the presence of a task distribution and the learning budget available for each individual task. Using these clusters, we then survey meta-RL algorithms and applications. We conclude by presenting the open problems on the path to making meta-RL part of the standard toolbox for a deep RL practitioner.

Using “empowerment” to better select actions in RL when there are only sparse rewards

Dai, S., Xu, W., Hofmann, A. et al. An empowerment-based solution to robotic manipulation tasks with sparse rewards, Auton Robot 47, 617\u2013633 (2023) DOI: 10.1007/s10514-023-10087-8.

In order to provide adaptive and user-friendly solutions to robotic manipulation, it is important that the agent can learn to accomplish tasks even if they are only provided with very sparse instruction signals. To address the issues reinforcement learning algorithms face when task rewards are sparse, this paper proposes an intrinsic motivation approach that can be easily integrated into any standard reinforcement learning algorithm and can allow robotic manipulators to learn useful manipulation skills with only sparse extrinsic rewards. Through integrating and balancing empowerment and curiosity, this approach shows superior performance compared to other state-of-the-art intrinsic exploration approaches during extensive empirical testing. When combined with other strategies for tackling the exploration challenge, e.g. curriculum learning, our approach is able to further improve the exploration efficiency and task success rate. Qualitative analysis also shows that when combined with diversity-driven intrinsic motivations, this approach can help manipulators learn a set of diverse skills which could potentially be applied to other more complicated manipulation tasks and accelerate their learning process.

Using Deep RL (TRPO) for selecting best interest points in the environment for path planning

Jie Fan, Xudong Zhang, Yuan Zou, Hierarchical path planner for unknown space exploration using reinforcement learning-based intelligent frontier selection, Expert Systems with Applications, Volume 230, 2023 DOI: 10.1016/j.eswa.2023.120630.

Path planning in unknown environments is extremely useful for some specific tasks, such as exploration of outer space planets, search and rescue in disaster areas, home sweeping services, etc. However, existing frontier-based path planners suffer from insufficient exploration, while reinforcement learning (RL)-based ones are confronted with problems in efficient training and effective searching. To overcome the above problems, this paper proposes a novel hierarchical path planner for unknown space exploration using RL-based intelligent frontier selection. Firstly, by decomposing the path planner into three-layered architecture (including the perception layer, planning layer, and control layer) and using edge detection to find potential frontiers to track, the path search space is shrunk from the whole map to a handful of points of interest, which significantly saves the computational resources in both training and execution processes. Secondly, one of the advanced RL algorithms, trust region policy optimization (TRPO), is used as a judge to select the best frontier for the robot to track, which ensures the optimality of the path planner with a shorter path length. The proposed method is validated through simulation and compared with both classic and state-of-the-art methods. Results show that the training process could be greatly accelerated compared with the traditional deep-Q network (DQN). Moreover, the proposed method has 4.2%\u201314.3% improvement in exploration region rate and achieves the highest exploration completeness.

Monte Carlo Tree Search (MTCS) with hybrid discrete-continuous beliefs, applied to robotics

M. Barenboim, M. Shienman and V. Indelman, Monte Carlo Planning in Hybrid Belief POMDPs, IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, vol. 8, no. 8, pp. 4410-4417, Aug. 2023 DOI: 10.1109/LRA.2023.3282773.

Real-world problems often require reasoning about hybrid beliefs, over both discrete and continuous random variables. Yet, such a setting has hardly been investigated in the context of planning. Moreover, existing online partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs) solvers do not support hybrid beliefs directly. In particular, these solvers do not address the added computational burden due to an increasing number of hypotheses with the planning horizon, which can grow exponentially. As part of this work, we present a novel algorithm, Hybrid Belief Monte Carlo Planning (HB-MCP) that utilizes the Monte Carlo Tree Search (MCTS) algorithm to solve a POMDP while maintaining a hybrid belief. We illustrate how the upper confidence bound (UCB) exploration bonus can be leveraged to guide the growth of hypotheses trees alongside the belief trees. We then evaluate our approach in highly aliased simulated environments where unresolved data association leads to multi-modal belief hypotheses.

A survey of guided RL for improving its application on robotics

J. E�er, N. Bach, C. Jestel, O. Urbann and S. Kerner, Guided Reinforcement Learning: A Review and Evaluation for Efficient and Effective Real-World Robotics [Survey], IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 67-85, June 2023 DOI: 10.1109/MRA.2022.3207664.

Recent successes aside, reinforcement learning (RL) still faces significant challenges in its application to the real-world robotics domain. Guiding the learning process with additional knowledge offers a potential solution, thus leveraging the strengths of data- and knowledge-driven approaches. However, this field of research encompasses several disciplines and hence would benefit from a structured overview.

In this article, we propose a concept of guided RL that provides a systematic approach toward accelerating the training process and improving performance for real-world robotics settings. We introduce a taxonomy that structures guided RL approaches and shows how different sources of knowledge can be integrated into the learning pipeline in a practical way. Based on this, we describe available approaches in this field and quantitatively evaluate their specific impact in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, and sim-to-real transfer within the robotics domain.

Comprehensive survey of the history and state of the art of active SLAM

J. A. Placed et al., A Survey on Active Simultaneous Localization and Mapping: State of the Art and New Frontiers, IEEE Transactions on Robotics, vol. 39, no. 3, pp. 1686-1705 DOI: 10.1109/TRO.2023.3248510.

Active simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) is the problem of planning and controlling the motion of a robot to build the most accurate and complete model of the surrounding environment. Since the first foundational work in active perception appeared, more than three decades ago, this field has received increasing attention across different scientific communities. This has brought about many different approaches and formulations, and makes a review of the current trends necessary and extremely valuable for both new and experienced researchers. In this article, we survey the state of the art in active SLAM and take an in-depth look at the open challenges that still require attention to meet the needs of modern applications. After providing a historical perspective, we present a unified problem formulation and review the well-established modular solution scheme, which decouples the problem into three stages that identify, select, and execute potential navigation actions. We then analyze alternative approaches, including belief-space planning and deep reinforcement learning techniques, and review related work on multirobot coordination. This article concludes with a discussion of new research directions, addressing reproducible research, active spatial perception, and practical applications, among other topics.

Leveraging the unexplainability and opacity of NNs to generate random numbers

Y. Almardeny, A. Benavoli, N. Boujnah and E. Naredo, A Reinforcement Learning System for Generating Instantaneous Quality Random Sequences, IEEE Transactions on Artificial Intelligence, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 402-415, June 2023 DOI: 10.1109/TAI.2022.3161893.

Random numbers are essential to most computer applications. Still, producing high-quality random sequences is a big challenge. Inspired by the success of artificial neural networks and reinforcement learning, we propose a novel and effective end-to-end learning system to generate pseudorandom sequences that operates under the upside-down reinforcement learning framework. It is based on manipulating the generalized information entropy metric to derive commands that instantaneously guide the agent toward the optimal random behavior. Using a wide range of evaluation tests, the proposed approach is compared against three state-of-the-art accredited pseudorandom number generators (PRNGs). The experimental results agree with our theoretical study and show that the proposed framework is a promising candidate for a wide range of applications.

Review of High Definition (HD) maps

Zhibin Bao, Sabir Hossain, Haoxiang Lang, Xianke Lin, A review of high-definition map creation methods for autonomous driving, Engineering Applications of Artificial Intelligence, Volume 122, 2023 DOI: 10.1016/j.engappai.2023.106125.

Autonomous driving has been among the most popular and challenging topics in the past few years. Among all modules in autonomous driving, High-definition (HD) map has drawn lots of attention in recent years due to its high precision and informative level in localization. Since localization is a significant module for automated vehicles to navigate an unknown environment, it has immediately become one of the most critical components of autonomous driving. Big organizations like HERE, NVIDIA, and TomTom have created HD maps for different scenes and purposes for autonomous driving. However, such HD maps are not open-source and are only available for internal research or automotive companies. Even though researchers have proposed various methods to create HD maps using different types of sensor data, there are few papers that review and summarize those methods. New researchers do not have a clear insight into the current state of HD map creation methods to work on their HD map research. Due to the reason above, reviewing, classifying, comparing, and summarizing the state-of-the-art techniques for HD map creation is necessary. This paper reviews recent HD map creation methods that leverage both 2D and 3D map generation. This review introduces the concept of HD maps and their usefulness in autonomous driving and gives a detailed overview of HD map creation methods. We will also discuss the limitations of the current HD map creation methods to motivate future research. Additionally, a chronological overview is created with the most recent HD map creation methods in this paper.

Improving safety in deep RL in the case of autonomous driving

Eduardo Candela, Olivier Doustaly, Leandro Parada, Felix Feng, Yiannis Demiris, Panagiotis Angeloudis, Risk-aware controller for autonomous vehicles using model-based collision prediction and reinforcement learning, Artificial Intelligence, Volume 320, 2023 DOI: 10.1016/j.artint.2023.103923.

Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) have the potential to save millions of lives and increase the efficiency of transportation services. However, the successful deployment of AVs requires tackling multiple challenges related to modeling and certifying safety. State-of-the-art decision-making methods usually rely on end-to-end learning or imitation learning approaches, which still pose significant safety risks. Hence the necessity of risk-aware AVs that can better predict and handle dangerous situations. Furthermore, current approaches tend to lack explainability due to their reliance on end-to-end Deep Learning, where significant causal relationships are not guaranteed to be learned from data. This paper introduces a novel risk-aware framework for training AV agents using a bespoke collision prediction model and Reinforcement Learning (RL). The collision prediction model is based on Gaussian Processes and vehicle dynamics, and is used to generate the RL state vector. Using an explicit risk model increases the post-hoc explainability of the AV agent, which is vital for reaching and certifying the high safety levels required for AVs and other safety-sensitive applications. Experimental results obtained with a simulator and state-of-the-art RL algorithms show that the risk-aware RL framework decreases average collision rates by 15%, makes AVs more robust to sudden harsh braking situations, and achieves better performance in both safety and speed when compared to a standard rule-based method (the Intelligent Driver Model). Moreover, the proposed collision prediction model outperforms other models in the literature.

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