Preparing for the Unknown: Learning a Universal Policy with Online System Identification

Authors: Wenhao Yu, C. Karen Liu, Greg Turk

We present a new method of learning control policies that successfully operate under unknown dynamic models. We create such policies by leveraging a large number of training examples that are generated using a physical simulator. Our system is made of two components: a Universal Policy (UP) and a function for Online System Identification (OSI). We describe our control policy as “universal” because it is trained over a wide array of dynamic models. These variations in the dynamic model may include differences in mass and inertia of the robot’s components, variable friction coefficients, or unknown mass of an object to be manipulated. By training the Universal Policy with this variation, the control policy is prepared for a wider array of possible conditions when executed in an unknown environment. The second part of our system uses the recent state and action history of the system to predict the dynamics model parameters mu. The value of mu from the Online System Identification is then provided as input to the control policy (along with the system state). Together, UP-OSI is a robust control policy that can be used across a wide range of dynamic models, and that is also responsive to sudden changes in the environment. We have evaluated the performance of this system on a variety of tasks, including the problem of cart-pole swing-up, the double inverted pendulum, locomotion of a hopper, and block-throwing of a manipulator. UP-OSI is effective at these tasks across a wide range of dynamic models. Moreover, when tested with dynamic models outside of the training range, UP-OSI outperforms the Universal Policy alone, even when UP is given the actual value of the model dynamics. In addition to the benefits of creating more robust controllers, UP-OSI also holds out promise of narrowing the Reality Gap between simulated and real physical systems.