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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