Do Deep Reinforcement Learning Algorithms really Learn to Navigate?


Nov 03, 2017 (modified: Nov 03, 2017) ICLR 2018 Conference Blind Submission readers: everyone Show Bibtex
  • Abstract: Deep reinforcement learning (DRL) algorithms have demonstrated progress in learning to find a goal in challenging environments. As the title of the paper by Mirowski et al. (2016) suggests, one might assume that DRL-based algorithms are able to “learn to navigate” and are thus ready to replace classical mapping and path-planning algorithms, at least in simulated environments. Yet, from experiments and analysis in this earlier work, it is not clear what strategies are used by these algorithms in navigating the mazes and finding the goal. In this paper, we pose and study this underlying question: are DRL algorithms doing some form of mapping and/or path-planning? Our experiments show that the algorithms are not memorizing the maps of mazes at the testing stage but, rather, at the training stage. Hence, the DRL algorithms fall short of qualifying as mapping or path-planning algorithms with any reasonable definition of mapping. We extend the experiments in Mirowski et al. (2016) by separating the set of training and testing maps and by a more ablative coverage of the space of experiments. Our systematic experiments show that the NavA3C-D1-D2-L algorithm, when trained and tested on the same maps, is able to choose the shorter paths to the goal. However, when tested on unseen maps the algorithm utilizes a wall-following strategy to find the goal without doing any mapping or path planning.
  • TL;DR: We quantitatively and qualitatively evaluate deep reinforcement learning based navigation methods under a variety of conditions to answer the question of how close they are to replacing classical path planners and mapping algorithms.
  • Keywords: deep reinforcement learning, navigation, path-planning, mapping