- TL;DR: We propose a novel method that leverages the gradients from differentiable simulators to improve the performance of RL for robotics control
- Abstract: Over the last decade, two competing control strategies have emerged for solving complex control tasks with high efficacy. Model-based control algorithms, such as model-predictive control (MPC) and trajectory optimization, peer into the gradients of underlying system dynamics in order to solve control tasks with high sample efficiency. However, like all gradient-based numerical optimization methods,model-based control methods are sensitive to intializations and are prone to becoming trapped in local minima. Deep reinforcement learning (DRL), on the other hand, can somewhat alleviate these issues by exploring the solution space through sampling — at the expense of computational cost. In this paper, we present a hybrid method that combines the best aspects of gradient-based methods and DRL. We base our algorithm on the deep deterministic policy gradients (DDPG) algorithm and propose a simple modification that uses true gradients from a differentiable physical simulator to increase the convergence rate of both the actor and the critic. We demonstrate our algorithm on seven 2D robot control tasks, with the most complex one being a differentiable half cheetah with hard contact constraints. Empirical results show that our method boosts the performance of DDPGwithout sacrificing its robustness to local minima.
- Keywords: differentiable simulator, model-based control, policy gradients