We present Self-Adaptive Robust Attention for Robotics Transformers (SARA-RT): a new paradigm for addressing the emerging challenge of scaling up Robotics Transformers (RT) for on-robot deployment. SARA-RT relies on the new method of fine-tuning proposed by us, called up-training. It converts pre-trained or already fine-tuned Transformer-based robotic policies of quadratic time complexity (including massive billion-parameter vision-language-action models or VLAs), into their efficient linear-attention counterparts maintaining high quality. We demonstrate the effectiveness of SARA-RT by speeding up: (a) the class of recently introduced RT-2 models, the first VLA robotic policies pre-trained on internet-scale data, as well as (b) Point Cloud Transformer (PCT) robotic policies operating on large point clouds. We complement our results with the rigorous mathematical analysis providing deeper insight into the phenomenon of SARA.
We present a deep-dive into a real-world robotic learning system that, in previous work, was shown to be capable of hundreds of table tennis rallies with a human and has the ability to precisely return the ball to desired targets. This system puts together a highly optimized perception subsystem, a high-speed low-latency robot controller, a simulation paradigm that can prevent damage in the real world and also train policies for zero-shot transfer, and automated real world environment resets that enable autonomous training and evaluation on physical robots. We complement a complete system description, including numerous design decisions that are typically not widely disseminated, with a collection of studies that clarify the importance of mitigating various sources of latency, accounting for training and deployment distribution shifts, robustness of the perception system, sensitivity to policy hyper-parameters, and choice of action space. A video demonstrating the components of the system and details of experimental results can be found at https://youtu.be/uFcnWjB42I0.
* Published and presented at Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS2023)
We address a benchmark task in agile robotics: catching objects thrown at high-speed. This is a challenging task that involves tracking, intercepting, and cradling a thrown object with access only to visual observations of the object and the proprioceptive state of the robot, all within a fraction of a second. We present the relative merits of two fundamentally different solution strategies: (i) Model Predictive Control using accelerated constrained trajectory optimization, and (ii) Reinforcement Learning using zeroth-order optimization. We provide insights into various performance trade-offs including sample efficiency, sim-to-real transfer, robustness to distribution shifts, and whole-body multimodality via extensive on-hardware experiments. We conclude with proposals on fusing "classical" and "learning-based" techniques for agile robot control. Videos of our experiments may be found at https://sites.google.com/view/agile-catching
Animals have evolved various agile locomotion strategies, such as sprinting, leaping, and jumping. There is a growing interest in developing legged robots that move like their biological counterparts and show various agile skills to navigate complex environments quickly. Despite the interest, the field lacks systematic benchmarks to measure the performance of control policies and hardware in agility. We introduce the Barkour benchmark, an obstacle course to quantify agility for legged robots. Inspired by dog agility competitions, it consists of diverse obstacles and a time based scoring mechanism. This encourages researchers to develop controllers that not only move fast, but do so in a controllable and versatile way. To set strong baselines, we present two methods for tackling the benchmark. In the first approach, we train specialist locomotion skills using on-policy reinforcement learning methods and combine them with a high-level navigation controller. In the second approach, we distill the specialist skills into a Transformer-based generalist locomotion policy, named Locomotion-Transformer, that can handle various terrains and adjust the robot's gait based on the perceived environment and robot states. Using a custom-built quadruped robot, we demonstrate that our method can complete the course at half the speed of a dog. We hope that our work represents a step towards creating controllers that enable robots to reach animal-level agility.
We present two new classes of algorithms for efficient field integration on graphs encoding point clouds. The first class, SeparatorFactorization(SF), leverages the bounded genus of point cloud mesh graphs, while the second class, RFDiffusion(RFD), uses popular epsilon-nearest-neighbor graph representations for point clouds. Both can be viewed as providing the functionality of Fast Multipole Methods (FMMs), which have had a tremendous impact on efficient integration, but for non-Euclidean spaces. We focus on geometries induced by distributions of walk lengths between points (e.g., shortest-path distance). We provide an extensive theoretical analysis of our algorithms, obtaining new results in structural graph theory as a byproduct. We also perform exhaustive empirical evaluation, including on-surface interpolation for rigid and deformable objects (particularly for mesh-dynamics modeling), Wasserstein distance computations for point clouds, and the Gromov-Wasserstein variant.
Training complex machine learning (ML) architectures requires a compute and time consuming process of selecting the right optimizer and tuning its hyper-parameters. A new paradigm of learning optimizers from data has emerged as a better alternative to hand-designed ML optimizers. We propose Mnemosyne optimizer, that uses Performers: implicit low-rank attention Transformers. It can learn to train entire neural network architectures including other Transformers without any task-specific optimizer tuning. We show that Mnemosyne: (a) generalizes better than popular LSTM optimizer, (b) in particular can successfully train Vision Transformers (ViTs) while meta--trained on standard MLPs and (c) can initialize optimizers for faster convergence in Robotics applications. We believe that these results open the possibility of using Transformers to build foundational optimization models that can address the challenges of regular Transformer training. We complement our results with an extensive theoretical analysis of the compact associative memory used by Mnemosyne.
We present a new class of structured reinforcement learning policy-architectures, Implicit Two-Tower (ITT) policies, where the actions are chosen based on the attention scores of their learnable latent representations with those of the input states. By explicitly disentangling action from state processing in the policy stack, we achieve two main goals: substantial computational gains and better performance. Our architectures are compatible with both: discrete and continuous action spaces. By conducting tests on 15 environments from OpenAI Gym and DeepMind Control Suite, we show that ITT-architectures are particularly suited for blackbox/evolutionary optimization and the corresponding policy training algorithms outperform their vanilla unstructured implicit counterparts as well as commonly used explicit policies. We complement our analysis by showing how techniques such as hashing and lazy tower updates, critically relying on the two-tower structure of ITTs, can be applied to obtain additional computational improvements.
We propose a new class of random feature methods for linearizing softmax and Gaussian kernels called hybrid random features (HRFs) that automatically adapt the quality of kernel estimation to provide most accurate approximation in the defined regions of interest. Special instantiations of HRFs lead to well-known methods such as trigonometric (Rahimi and Recht, 2007) or (recently introduced in the context of linear-attention Transformers) positive random features (Choromanski et al., 2021). By generalizing Bochner's Theorem for softmax/Gaussian kernels and leveraging random features for compositional kernels, the HRF-mechanism provides strong theoretical guarantees - unbiased approximation and strictly smaller worst-case relative errors than its counterparts. We conduct exhaustive empirical evaluation of HRF ranging from pointwise kernel estimation experiments, through tests on data admitting clustering structure to benchmarking implicit-attention Transformers (also for downstream Robotics applications), demonstrating its quality in a wide spectrum of machine learning problems.
There has recently been significant interest in training reinforcement learning (RL) agents in vision-based environments. This poses many challenges, such as high dimensionality and potential for observational overfitting through spurious correlations. A promising approach to solve both of these problems is a self-attention bottleneck, which provides a simple and effective framework for learning high performing policies, even in the presence of distractions. However, due to poor scalability of attention architectures, these methods do not scale beyond low resolution visual inputs, using large patches (thus small attention matrices). In this paper we make use of new efficient attention algorithms, recently shown to be highly effective for Transformers, and demonstrate that these new techniques can be applied in the RL setting. This allows our attention-based controllers to scale to larger visual inputs, and facilitate the use of smaller patches, even individual pixels, improving generalization. In addition, we propose a new efficient algorithm approximating softmax attention with what we call hybrid random features, leveraging the theory of angular kernels. We show theoretically and empirically that hybrid random features is a promising approach when using attention for vision-based RL.