PBCS: Efficient Exploration and Exploitation Using a Synergy between Reinforcement Learning and Motion Planning
The exploration-exploitation trade-off is at the heart of reinforcement learning (RL). However, most continuous control benchmarks used in recent RL research only require local exploration. This led to the development of algorithms that have basic exploration capabilities, and behave poorly in benchmarks that require more versatile exploration. For instance, as demonstrated in our empirical study, state-of-the-art RL algorithms such as DDPG and TD3 are unable to steer a point mass in even small 2D mazes. In this paper, we propose a new algorithm called ”Plan, Backplay, Chain Skills” (PBCS) that combines motion planning and reinforcement learning to solve hard exploration environments. In a first phase, a motion planning algorithm is used to find a single good trajectory, then an RL algorithm is trained using a curriculum derived from the trajectory, by combining a variant of the Backplay algorithm and skill chaining. We show that this method outperforms state-of-the-art RL algorithms in 2D maze environments of various sizes, and is able to improve on the trajectory obtained by the motion planning phase.
The problem with DDPG: understanding failures in deterministic environments with sparse rewards
In environments with continuous state and action spaces, state-of-the-art actor-critic reinforcement learning algorithms can solve very complex problems, yet can also fail in environments that seem trivial, but the reason for such failures is still poorly understood. In this paper, we contribute a formal explanation of these failures in the particular case of sparse reward and deterministic environments. First, using a very elementary control problem, we illustrate that the learning process can get stuck into a fixed point corresponding to a poor solution, especially when the reward is not found very early. Then, generalizing from the studied example, we provide a detailed analysis of the underlying mechanisms which results in a new understanding of one of the convergence regimes of these algorithms.