Autonomous Learning for Control and Robotics

Autonomous learning has been a promising direction in control and robotics for more than a decade since data-driven learning allows to reduce the amount of engineering knowledge, which is otherwise required. How long does it take for an autonomous robot to learn a task from scratch if no informative prior knowledge is available? Typically, very long: Autonomous reinforcement learning (RL) approaches typically require many interactions with the system to learn controllers, which is a practical limitation in real systems, such as robots, where many interactions can be impractical and time consuming. To address this problem, current learning approaches typically require task-specific knowledge in form of expert demonstrations, realistic simulators, pre-shaped policies, or specific knowledge about the underlying dynamics. 

We follow a different approach and speed up learning by extracting more information from data. In particular, we learn a probabilistic, non-parametric Gaussian process transition model of the system. By explicitly incorporating model uncertainty into long-term planning and controller learning our approach reduces the effect of model errors, a key problem in model-based learning. 

Compared to state-of-the art RL our model-based policy search method achieves an unprecedented speed of learning. We demonstrate its applicability to autonomous learning in real robot and control tasks.

Low-Cost Robotic Manipulator

We used a standard robot arm by Lynxmotion and a Kinect-depth camera (total cost is 500 USD) and demonstrate that fully autonomous learning (with random intializations) requires only a few trials.


Cart-Pole Swing-Up

Our autonomous learning approach could solve this standard benchmark task using data of less than 20 seconds.



Marc Deisenroth


Dieter Fox, University of Washington
Carl Edward Rasmussen, University of Cambridge

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