Abstract: Simulation-to-real transfer is an important strategy for making reinforcement learning practical with real robots. Successful sim-to-real transfer systems have difficulty producing policies which generalize across tasks, despite training for thousands of hours equivalent real robot time. To address this shortcoming, we present a novel approach to efficiently learning new robotic skills directly on a real robot, based on model-predictive control (MPC) and an algorithm for learning task representations. In short, we show how to reuse the simulation from the pre-training step of sim-to-real methods as a tool for foresight, allowing the sim-to-real policy adapt to unseen tasks. Rather than end-to-end learning policies for single tasks and attempting to transfer them, we first use simulation to simultaneously learn (1) a continuous parameterization (i.e. a skill embedding or latent) of task-appropriate primitive skills, and (2) a single policy for these skills which is conditioned on this representation. We then directly transfer our multi-skill policy to a real robot, and actuate the robot by choosing sequences of skill latents which actuate the policy, with each latent corresponding to a pre-learned primitive skill controller. We complete unseen tasks by choosing new sequences of skill latents to control the robot using MPC, where our MPC model is composed of the pre-trained skill policy executed in the simulation environment, run in parallel with the real robot. We discuss the background and principles of our method, detail its practical implementation, and evaluate its performance by using our method to train a real Sawyer Robot to achieve motion tasks such as drawing and block pushing.
Authors: Zhanpeng He, Ryan Julian, Eric Heiden, Hejia Zhang, Stefan Schaal, Joseph J. Lim, Gaurav Sukhatme, Karol Hausman (Columbia University)