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2020


Bayesian Optimization in Robot Learning - Automatic Controller Tuning and Sample-Efficient Methods
Bayesian Optimization in Robot Learning - Automatic Controller Tuning and Sample-Efficient Methods

Marco-Valle, A.

University of Tübingen, June 2020 (thesis)

Abstract
The problem of designing controllers to regulate dynamical systems has been studied by engineers during the past millennia. Ever since, suboptimal performance lingers in many closed loops as an unavoidable side effect of manually tuning the parameters of the controllers. Nowadays, industrial settings remain skeptic about data-driven methods that allow one to automatically learn controller parameters. In the context of robotics, machine learning (ML) keeps growing its influence on increasing autonomy and adaptability, for example to aid automating controller tuning. However, data-hungry ML methods, such as standard reinforcement learning, require a large number of experimental samples, prohibitive in robotics, as hardware can deteriorate and break. This brings about the following question: Can manual controller tuning, in robotics, be automated by using data-efficient machine learning techniques? In this thesis, we tackle the question above by exploring Bayesian optimization (BO), a data-efficient ML framework, to buffer the human effort and side effects of manual controller tuning, while retaining a low number of experimental samples. We focus this work in the context of robotic systems, providing thorough theoretical results that aim to increase data-efficiency, as well as demonstrations in real robots. Specifically, we present four main contributions. We first consider using BO to replace manual tuning in robotic platforms. To this end, we parametrize the design weights of a linear quadratic regulator (LQR) and learn its parameters using an information-efficient BO algorithm. Such algorithm uses Gaussian processes (GPs) to model the unknown performance objective. The GP model is used by BO to suggest controller parameters that are expected to increment the information about the optimal parameters, measured as a gain in entropy. The resulting “automatic LQR tuning” framework is demonstrated on two robotic platforms: A robot arm balancing an inverted pole and a humanoid robot performing a squatting task. In both cases, an existing controller is automatically improved in a handful of experiments without human intervention. BO compensates for data scarcity by means of the GP, which is a probabilistic model that encodes prior assumptions about the unknown performance objective. Usually, incorrect or non-informed assumptions have negative consequences, such as higher number of robot experiments, poor tuning performance or reduced sample-efficiency. The second to fourth contributions presented herein attempt to alleviate this issue. The second contribution proposes to include the robot simulator into the learning loop as an additional information source for automatic controller tuning. While doing a real robot experiment generally entails high associated costs (e.g., require preparation and take time), simulations are cheaper to obtain (e.g., they can be computed faster). However, because the simulator is an imperfect model of the robot, its information is biased and could have negative repercussions in the learning performance. To address this problem, we propose “simu-vs-real”, a principled multi-fidelity BO algorithm that trades off cheap, but inaccurate information from simulations with expensive and accurate physical experiments in a cost-effective manner. The resulting algorithm is demonstrated on a cart-pole system, where simulations and real experiments are alternated, thus sparing many real evaluations. The third contribution explores how to adequate the expressiveness of the probabilistic prior to the control problem at hand. To this end, the mathematical structure of LQR controllers is leveraged and embedded into the GP, by means of the kernel function. Specifically, we propose two different “LQR kernel” designs that retain the flexibility of Bayesian nonparametric learning. Simulated results indicate that the LQR kernel yields superior performance than non-informed kernel choices when used for controller learning with BO. Finally, the fourth contribution specifically addresses the problem of handling controller failures, which are typically unavoidable in practice while learning from data, specially if non-conservative solutions are expected. Although controller failures are generally problematic (e.g., the robot has to be emergency-stopped), they are also a rich information source about what should be avoided. We propose “failures-aware excursion search”, a novel algorithm for Bayesian optimization under black-box constraints, where failures are limited in number. Our results in numerical benchmarks indicate that by allowing a confined number of failures, better optima are revealed as compared with state-of-the-art methods. The first contribution of this thesis, “automatic LQR tuning”, lies among the first on applying BO to real robots. While it demonstrated automatic controller learning from few experimental samples, it also revealed several important challenges, such as the need of higher sample-efficiency, which opened relevant research directions that we addressed through several methodological contributions. Summarizing, we proposed “simu-vs-real”, a novel BO algorithm that includes the simulator as an additional information source, an “LQR kernel” design that learns faster than standard choices and “failures-aware excursion search”, a new BO algorithm for constrained black-box optimization problems, where the number of failures is limited.

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Repository (Universitätsbibliothek) - University of Tübingen PDF DOI [BibTex]

2019


Towards Geometric Understanding of Motion
Towards Geometric Understanding of Motion

Ranjan, A.

University of Tübingen, December 2019 (phdthesis)

Abstract

The motion of the world is inherently dependent on the spatial structure of the world and its geometry. Therefore, classical optical flow methods try to model this geometry to solve for the motion. However, recent deep learning methods take a completely different approach. They try to predict optical flow by learning from labelled data. Although deep networks have shown state-of-the-art performance on classification problems in computer vision, they have not been as effective in solving optical flow. The key reason is that deep learning methods do not explicitly model the structure of the world in a neural network, and instead expect the network to learn about the structure from data. We hypothesize that it is difficult for a network to learn about motion without any constraint on the structure of the world. Therefore, we explore several approaches to explicitly model the geometry of the world and its spatial structure in deep neural networks.

The spatial structure in images can be captured by representing it at multiple scales. To represent multiple scales of images in deep neural nets, we introduce a Spatial Pyramid Network (SpyNet). Such a network can leverage global information for estimating large motions and local information for estimating small motions. We show that SpyNet significantly improves over previous optical flow networks while also being the smallest and fastest neural network for motion estimation. SPyNet achieves a 97% reduction in model parameters over previous methods and is more accurate.

The spatial structure of the world extends to people and their motion. Humans have a very well-defined structure, and this information is useful in estimating optical flow for humans. To leverage this information, we create a synthetic dataset for human optical flow using a statistical human body model and motion capture sequences. We use this dataset to train deep networks and see significant improvement in the ability of the networks to estimate human optical flow.

The structure and geometry of the world affects the motion. Therefore, learning about the structure of the scene together with the motion can benefit both problems. To facilitate this, we introduce Competitive Collaboration, where several neural networks are constrained by geometry and can jointly learn about structure and motion in the scene without any labels. To this end, we show that jointly learning single view depth prediction, camera motion, optical flow and motion segmentation using Competitive Collaboration achieves state-of-the-art results among unsupervised approaches.

Our findings provide support for our hypothesis that explicit constraints on structure and geometry of the world lead to better methods for motion estimation.

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PhD Thesis [BibTex]

2019


PhD Thesis [BibTex]


Fast and Resource-Efficient Control of Wireless Cyber-Physical Systems
Fast and Resource-Efficient Control of Wireless Cyber-Physical Systems

Baumann, D.

KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Febuary 2019 (phdthesis)

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PDF [BibTex]

PDF [BibTex]


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Actively Learning Dynamical Systems with Gaussian Processes

Buisson-Fenet, M.

Mines ParisTech, PSL University, 2019 (mastersthesis)

Abstract
Predicting the behavior of complex systems is of great importance in many fields such as engineering, economics or meteorology. The evolution of such systems often follows a certain structure, which can be induced, for example from the laws of physics or of market forces. Mathematically, this structure is often captured by differential equations. The internal functional dependencies, however, are usually unknown. Hence, using machine learning approaches that recreate this structure directly from data is a promising alternative to designing physics-based models. In particular, for high dimensional systems with nonlinear effects, this can be a challenging task. Learning dynamical systems is different from the classical machine learning tasks, such as image processing, and necessitates different tools. Indeed, dynamical systems can be actuated, often by applying torques or voltages. Hence, the user has a power of decision over the system, and can drive it to certain states by going through the dynamics. Actuating this system generates data, from which a machine learning model of the dynamics can be trained. However, gathering informative data that is representative of the whole state space remains a challenging task. The question of active learning then becomes important: which control inputs should be chosen by the user so that the data generated during an experiment is informative, and enables efficient training of the dynamics model? In this context, Gaussian processes can be a useful framework for approximating system dynamics. Indeed, they perform well on small and medium sized data sets, as opposed to most other machine learning frameworks. This is particularly important considering data is often costly to generate and process, most of all when producing it involves actuating a complex physical system. Gaussian processes also yield a notion of uncertainty, which indicates how sure the model is about its predictions. In this work, we investigate in a principled way how to actively learn dynamical systems, by selecting control inputs that generate informative data. We model the system dynamics by a Gaussian process, and use information-theoretic criteria to identify control trajectories that maximize the information gain. Thus, the input space can be explored efficiently, leading to a data-efficient training of the model. We propose several methods, investigate their theoretical properties and compare them extensively in a numerical benchmark. The final method proves to be efficient at generating informative data. Thus, it yields the lowest prediction error with the same amount of samples on most benchmark systems. We propose several variants of this method, allowing the user to trade off computations with prediction accuracy, and show it is versatile enough to take additional objectives into account.

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[BibTex]

[BibTex]