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Jean-Jacques Slotine

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Dynamic Adaptation Gains for Nonlinear Systems with Unmatched Uncertainties

Nov 09, 2023
Brett T. Lopez, Jean-Jacques Slotine

We present a new direct adaptive control approach for nonlinear systems with unmatched and matched uncertainties. The method relies on adjusting the adaptation gains of individual unmatched parameters whose adaptation transients would otherwise destabilize the closed-loop system. The approach also guarantees the restoration of the adaptation gains to their nominal values and can readily incorporate direct adaptation laws for matched uncertainties. The proposed framework is general as it only requires stabilizability for all possible models.

* V1 
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Stable Modular Control via Contraction Theory for Reinforcement Learning

Nov 07, 2023
Bing Song, Jean-Jacques Slotine, Quang-Cuong Pham

We propose a novel way to integrate control techniques with reinforcement learning (RL) for stability, robustness, and generalization: leveraging contraction theory to realize modularity in neural control, which ensures that combining stable subsystems can automatically preserve the stability. We realize such modularity via signal composition and dynamic decomposition. Signal composition creates the latent space, within which RL applies to maximizing rewards. Dynamic decomposition is realized by coordinate transformation that creates an auxiliary space, within which the latent signals are coupled in the way that their combination can preserve stability provided each signal, that is, each subsystem, has stable self-feedbacks. Leveraging modularity, the nonlinear stability problem is deconstructed into algebraically solvable ones, the stability of the subsystems in the auxiliary space, yielding linear constraints on the input gradients of control networks that can be as simple as switching the signs of network weights. This minimally invasive method for stability allows arguably easy integration into the modular neural architectures in machine learning, like hierarchical RL, and improves their performance. We demonstrate in simulation the necessity and the effectiveness of our method: the necessity for robustness and generalization, and the effectiveness in improving hierarchical RL for manipulation learning.

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Contraction Properties of the Global Workspace Primitive

Oct 02, 2023
Michaela Ennis, Leo Kozachkov, Jean-Jacques Slotine

To push forward the important emerging research field surrounding multi-area recurrent neural networks (RNNs), we expand theoretically and empirically on the provably stable RNNs of RNNs introduced by Kozachkov et al. in "RNNs of RNNs: Recursive Construction of Stable Assemblies of Recurrent Neural Networks". We prove relaxed stability conditions for salient special cases of this architecture, most notably for a global workspace modular structure. We then demonstrate empirical success for Global Workspace Sparse Combo Nets with a small number of trainable parameters, not only through strong overall test performance but also greater resilience to removal of individual subnetworks. These empirical results for the global workspace inter-area topology are contingent on stability preservation, highlighting the relevance of our theoretical work for enabling modular RNN success. Further, by exploring sparsity in the connectivity structure between different subnetwork modules more broadly, we improve the state of the art performance for stable RNNs on benchmark sequence processing tasks, thus underscoring the general utility of specialized graph structures for multi-area RNNs.

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Avoidance of Concave Obstacles through Rotation of Nonlinear Dynamics

Jun 28, 2023
Lukas Huber, Jean-Jacques Slotine, Aude Billard

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Controlling complex tasks in robotic systems, such as circular motion for cleaning or following curvy lines, can be dealt with using nonlinear vector fields. In this paper, we introduce a novel approach called rotational obstacle avoidance method (ROAM) for adapting the initial dynamics when the workspace is partially occluded by obstacles. ROAM presents a closed-form solution that effectively avoids star-shaped obstacles in spaces of arbitrary dimensions by rotating the initial dynamics towards the tangent space. The algorithm enables navigation within obstacle hulls and can be customized to actively move away from surfaces, while guaranteeing the presence of only a single saddle point on the boundary of each obstacle. We introduce a sequence of mappings to extend the approach for general nonlinear dynamics. Moreover, ROAM extends its capabilities to handle multi-obstacle environments and provides the ability to constrain dynamics within a safe tube. By utilizing weighted vector-tree summation, we successfully navigate around general concave obstacles represented as a tree-of-stars. Through experimental evaluation, ROAM demonstrates superior performance in terms of minimizing occurrences of local minima and maintaining similarity to the initial dynamics, outperforming existing approaches in multi-obstacle simulations. The proposed method is highly reactive, owing to its simplicity, and can be applied effectively in dynamic environments. This was demonstrated during the collision-free navigation of a 7 degree-of-freedom robot arm around dynamic obstacles

* 20 pages, 19 figures 
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MinMax Networks

Jun 15, 2023
Winfried Lohmiller, Philipp Gassert, Jean-Jacques Slotine

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While much progress has been achieved over the last decades in neuro-inspired machine learning, there are still fundamental theoretical problems in gradient-based learning using combinations of neurons. These problems, such as saddle points and suboptimal plateaus of the cost function, can lead in theory and practice to failures of learning. In addition, the discrete step size selection of the gradient is problematic since too large steps can lead to instability and too small steps slow down the learning. This paper describes an alternative discrete MinMax learning approach for continuous piece-wise linear functions. Global exponential convergence of the algorithm is established using Contraction Theory with Inequality Constraints, which is extended from the continuous to the discrete case in this paper: The parametrization of each linear function piece is, in contrast to deep learning, linear in the proposed MinMax network. This allows a linear regression stability proof as long as measurements do not transit from one linear region to its neighbouring linear region. The step size of the discrete gradient descent is Lagrangian limited orthogonal to the edge of two neighbouring linear functions. It will be shown that this Lagrangian step limitation does not decrease the convergence of the unconstrained system dynamics in contrast to a step size limitation in the direction of the gradient. We show that the convergence rate of a constrained piece-wise linear function learning is equivalent to the exponential convergence rates of the individual local linear regions.

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Agile Catching with Whole-Body MPC and Blackbox Policy Learning

Jun 14, 2023
Saminda Abeyruwan, Alex Bewley, Nicholas M. Boffi, Krzysztof Choromanski, David D'Ambrosio, Deepali Jain, Pannag Sanketi, Anish Shankar, Vikas Sindhwani, Sumeet Singh, Jean-Jacques Slotine, Stephen Tu

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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

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Scaling Spherical CNNs

Jun 08, 2023
Carlos Esteves, Jean-Jacques Slotine, Ameesh Makadia

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Spherical CNNs generalize CNNs to functions on the sphere, by using spherical convolutions as the main linear operation. The most accurate and efficient way to compute spherical convolutions is in the spectral domain (via the convolution theorem), which is still costlier than the usual planar convolutions. For this reason, applications of spherical CNNs have so far been limited to small problems that can be approached with low model capacity. In this work, we show how spherical CNNs can be scaled for much larger problems. To achieve this, we make critical improvements including novel variants of common model components, an implementation of core operations to exploit hardware accelerator characteristics, and application-specific input representations that exploit the properties of our model. Experiments show our larger spherical CNNs reach state-of-the-art on several targets of the QM9 molecular benchmark, which was previously dominated by equivariant graph neural networks, and achieve competitive performance on multiple weather forecasting tasks. Our code is available at

* Accepted to ICML'23 
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Learning Control-Oriented Dynamical Structure from Data

Feb 06, 2023
Spencer M. Richards, Jean-Jacques Slotine, Navid Azizan, Marco Pavone

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Even for known nonlinear dynamical systems, feedback controller synthesis is a difficult problem that often requires leveraging the particular structure of the dynamics to induce a stable closed-loop system. For general nonlinear models, including those fit to data, there may not be enough known structure to reliably synthesize a stabilizing feedback controller. In this paper, we propose a novel nonlinear tracking controller formulation based on a state-dependent Riccati equation for general nonlinear control-affine systems. Our formulation depends on a nonlinear factorization of the system of vector fields defining the control-affine dynamics, which we show always exists under mild smoothness assumptions. We discuss how this factorization can be learned from a finite set of data. On a variety of simulated nonlinear dynamical systems, we demonstrate the efficacy of learned versions of our controller in stable trajectory tracking. Alongside our method, we evaluate recent ideas in jointly learning a controller and stabilizability certificate for known dynamical systems; we show empirically that such methods can be data-inefficient in comparison.

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From Obstacle Avoidance To Motion Learning Using Local Rotation of Dynamical Systems

Oct 26, 2022
Lukas Huber, Jean-Jacques Slotine, Aude Billard

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In robotics motion is often described from an external perspective, i.e., we give information on the obstacle motion in a mathematical manner with respect to a specific (often inertial) reference frame. In the current work, we propose to describe the robotic motion with respect to the robot itself. Similar to how we give instructions to each other (go straight, and then after multiple meters move left, and then a sharp turn right.), we give the instructions to a robot as a relative rotation. We first introduce an obstacle avoidance framework that allows avoiding star-shaped obstacles while trying to stay close to an initial (linear or nonlinear) dynamical system. The framework of the local rotation is extended to motion learning. Automated clustering defines regions of local stability, for which the precise dynamics are individually learned. The framework has been applied to the LASA-handwriting dataset and shows promising results.

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Stability Guarantees for Continuous RL Control

Sep 17, 2022
Bing Song, Jean-Jacques Slotine, Quang-Cuong Pham

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Lack of stability guarantees strongly limits the use of reinforcement learning (RL) in safety critical robotic applications. Here we propose a control system architecture for continuous RL control and derive corresponding stability theorems via contraction analysis, yielding constraints on the network weights to ensure stability. The control architecture can be implemented in general RL algorithms and improve their stability, robustness, and sample efficiency. We demonstrate the importance and benefits of such guarantees for RL on two standard examples, PPO learning of a 2D problem and HIRO learning of maze tasks.

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