Learning with a Mole: Transferable latent spatial representations for navigation without reconstruction

Published: 16 Jan 2024, Last Modified: 11 Feb 2024ICLR 2024 posterEveryoneRevisionsBibTeX
Primary Area: applications to robotics, autonomy, planning
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Keywords: Navigation, Embodied AI, Perception
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TL;DR: Instead of learning to reconstruct, we cast the robotic perception task as a navigation task by a blind auxiliary agent generating a learning signal for the main agent
Abstract: Agents navigating in 3D environments require some form of memory, which should hold a compact and actionable representation of the history of observations useful for decision taking and planning. In most end-to-end learning approaches the representation is latent and usually does not have a clearly defined interpretation, whereas classical robotics addresses this with scene reconstruction resulting in some form of map, usually estimated with geometry and sensor models and/or learning. In this work we propose to learn an actionable representation of the scene independently of the targeted downstream task and without explicitly optimizing reconstruction. The learned representation is optimized by a blind auxiliary agent trained to navigate with it on multiple short sub episodes branching out from a waypoint and, most importantly, without any direct visual observation. We argue and show that the blindness property is important and forces the (trained) latent representation to be the only means for planning. With probing experiments we show that the learned representation optimizes navigability and not reconstruction. On downstream tasks we show that it is robust to changes in distribution, in particular the sim2real gap, which we evaluate with a real physical robot in a real office building, significantly improving performance.
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Submission Number: 365