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Authors:Anish Bhattacharya, Marco Cannici, Nishanth Rao, Yuezhan Tao, Vijay Kumar, Nikolai Matni, Davide Scaramuzza

Abstract:We present the first static-obstacle avoidance method for quadrotors using just an onboard, monocular event camera. Quadrotors are capable of fast and agile flight in cluttered environments when piloted manually, but vision-based autonomous flight in unknown environments is difficult in part due to the sensor limitations of traditional onboard cameras. Event cameras, however, promise nearly zero motion blur and high dynamic range, but produce a very large volume of events under significant ego-motion and further lack a continuous-time sensor model in simulation, making direct sim-to-real transfer not possible. By leveraging depth prediction as a pretext task in our learning framework, we can pre-train a reactive obstacle avoidance events-to-control policy with approximated, simulated events and then fine-tune the perception component with limited events-and-depth real-world data to achieve obstacle avoidance in indoor and outdoor settings. We demonstrate this across two quadrotor-event camera platforms in multiple settings and find, contrary to traditional vision-based works, that low speeds (1m/s) make the task harder and more prone to collisions, while high speeds (5m/s) result in better event-based depth estimation and avoidance. We also find that success rates in outdoor scenes can be significantly higher than in certain indoor scenes.

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Abstract:A driving force behind the diverse applicability of modern machine learning is the ability to extract meaningful features across many sources. However, many practical domains involve data that are non-identically distributed across sources, and statistically dependent within its source, violating vital assumptions in existing theoretical studies. Toward addressing these issues, we establish statistical guarantees for learning general $\textit{nonlinear}$ representations from multiple data sources that admit different input distributions and possibly dependent data. Specifically, we study the sample-complexity of learning $T+1$ functions $f_\star^{(t)} \circ g_\star$ from a function class $\mathcal F \times \mathcal G$, where $f_\star^{(t)}$ are task specific linear functions and $g_\star$ is a shared nonlinear representation. A representation $\hat g$ is estimated using $N$ samples from each of $T$ source tasks, and a fine-tuning function $\hat f^{(0)}$ is fit using $N'$ samples from a target task passed through $\hat g$. We show that when $N \gtrsim C_{\mathrm{dep}} (\mathrm{dim}(\mathcal F) + \mathrm{C}(\mathcal G)/T)$, the excess risk of $\hat f^{(0)} \circ \hat g$ on the target task decays as $\nu_{\mathrm{div}} \big(\frac{\mathrm{dim}(\mathcal F)}{N'} + \frac{\mathrm{C}(\mathcal G)}{N T} \big)$, where $C_{\mathrm{dep}}$ denotes the effect of data dependency, $\nu_{\mathrm{div}}$ denotes an (estimatable) measure of $\textit{task-diversity}$ between the source and target tasks, and $\mathrm C(\mathcal G)$ denotes the complexity of the representation class $\mathcal G$. In particular, our analysis reveals: as the number of tasks $T$ increases, both the sample requirement and risk bound converge to that of $r$-dimensional regression as if $g_\star$ had been given, and the effect of dependency only enters the sample requirement, leaving the risk bound matching the iid setting.

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Abstract:We propose a reinforcement learning (RL)-based algorithm to jointly train (1) a trajectory planner and (2) a tracking controller in a layered control architecture. Our algorithm arises naturally from a rewrite of the underlying optimal control problem that lends itself to an actor-critic learning approach. By explicitly learning a \textit{dual} network to coordinate the interaction between the planning and tracking layers, we demonstrate the ability to achieve an effective consensus between the two components, leading to an interpretable policy. We theoretically prove that our algorithm converges to the optimal dual network in the Linear Quadratic Regulator (LQR) setting and empirically validate its applicability to nonlinear systems through simulation experiments on a unicycle model.

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Abstract:Representation learning is a powerful tool that enables learning over large multitudes of agents or domains by enforcing that all agents operate on a shared set of learned features. However, many robotics or controls applications that would benefit from collaboration operate in settings with changing environments and goals, whereas most guarantees for representation learning are stated for static settings. Toward rigorously establishing the benefit of representation learning in dynamic settings, we analyze the regret of multi-task representation learning for linear-quadratic control. This setting introduces unique challenges. Firstly, we must account for and balance the $\textit{misspecification}$ introduced by an approximate representation. Secondly, we cannot rely on the parameter update schemes of single-task online LQR, for which least-squares often suffices, and must devise a novel scheme to ensure sufficient improvement. We demonstrate that for settings where exploration is "benign", the regret of any agent after $T$ timesteps scales as $\tilde O(\sqrt{T/H})$, where $H$ is the number of agents. In settings with "difficult" exploration, the regret scales as $\tilde{\mathcal O}(\sqrt{d_u d_\theta} \sqrt{T} + T^{3/4}/H^{1/5})$, where $d_x$ is the state-space dimension, $d_u$ is the input dimension, and $d_\theta$ is the task-specific parameter count. In both cases, by comparing to the minimax single-task regret $\tilde{\mathcal O}(\sqrt{d_x d_u^2}\sqrt{T})$, we see a benefit of a large number of agents. Notably, in the difficult exploration case, by sharing a representation across tasks, the effective task-specific parameter count can often be small $d_\theta < d_x d_u$. Lastly, we provide numerical validation of the trends we predict.

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Abstract:We study the performance of risk-controlling prediction sets (RCPS), an empirical risk minimization-based formulation of conformal prediction, with a single trajectory of temporally correlated data from an unknown stochastic dynamical system. First, we use the blocking technique to show that RCPS attains performance guarantees similar to those enjoyed in the iid setting whenever data is generated by asymptotically stationary and contractive dynamics. Next, we use the decoupling technique to characterize the graceful degradation in RCPS guarantees when the data generating process deviates from stationarity and contractivity. We conclude by discussing how these tools could be used toward a unified analysis of online and offline conformal prediction algorithms, which are currently treated with very different tools.

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Abstract:We demonstrate the capabilities of an attention-based end-to-end approach for high-speed quadrotor obstacle avoidance in dense, cluttered environments, with comparison to various state-of-the-art architectures. Quadrotor unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have tremendous maneuverability when flown fast; however, as flight speed increases, traditional vision-based navigation via independent mapping, planning, and control modules breaks down due to increased sensor noise, compounding errors, and increased processing latency. Thus, learning-based, end-to-end planning and control networks have shown to be effective for online control of these fast robots through cluttered environments. We train and compare convolutional, U-Net, and recurrent architectures against vision transformer models for depth-based end-to-end control, in a photorealistic, high-physics-fidelity simulator as well as in hardware, and observe that the attention-based models are more effective as quadrotor speeds increase, while recurrent models with many layers provide smoother commands at lower speeds. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first work to utilize vision transformers for end-to-end vision-based quadrotor control.

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Abstract:Robots interacting with humans must be safe, reactive and adapt online to unforeseen environmental and task changes. Achieving these requirements concurrently is a challenge as interactive planners lack formal safety guarantees, while safe motion planners lack flexibility to adapt. To tackle this, we propose a modular control architecture that generates both safe and reactive motion plans for human-robot interaction by integrating temporal logic-based discrete task level plans with continuous Dynamical System (DS)-based motion plans. We formulate a reactive temporal logic formula that enables users to define task specifications through structured language, and propose a planning algorithm at the task level that generates a sequence of desired robot behaviors while being adaptive to environmental changes. At the motion level, we incorporate control Lyapunov functions and control barrier functions to compute stable and safe continuous motion plans for two types of robot behaviors: (i) complex, possibly periodic motions given by autonomous DS and (ii) time-critical tasks specified by Signal Temporal Logic~(STL). Our methodology is demonstrated on the Franka robot arm performing wiping tasks on a whiteboard and a mannequin that is compliant to human interactions and adaptive to environmental changes.

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Abstract:Model-based reinforcement learning is an effective approach for controlling an unknown system. It is based on a longstanding pipeline familiar to the control community in which one performs experiments on the environment to collect a dataset, uses the resulting dataset to identify a model of the system, and finally performs control synthesis using the identified model. As interacting with the system may be costly and time consuming, targeted exploration is crucial for developing an effective control-oriented model with minimal experimentation. Motivated by this challenge, recent work has begun to study finite sample data requirements and sample efficient algorithms for the problem of optimal exploration in model-based reinforcement learning. However, existing theory and algorithms are limited to model classes which are linear in the parameters. Our work instead focuses on models with nonlinear parameter dependencies, and presents the first finite sample analysis of an active learning algorithm suitable for a general class of nonlinear dynamics. In certain settings, the excess control cost of our algorithm achieves the optimal rate, up to logarithmic factors. We validate our approach in simulation, showcasing the advantage of active, control-oriented exploration for controlling nonlinear systems.

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Abstract:Large-scale robotic policies trained on data from diverse tasks and robotic platforms hold great promise for enabling general-purpose robots; however, reliable generalization to new environment conditions remains a major challenge. Toward addressing this challenge, we propose a novel approach for uncertainty-aware deployment of pre-trained language-conditioned imitation learning agents. Specifically, we use temperature scaling to calibrate these models and exploit the calibrated model to make uncertainty-aware decisions by aggregating the local information of candidate actions. We implement our approach in simulation using three such pre-trained models, and showcase its potential to significantly enhance task completion rates. The accompanying code is accessible at the link: https://github.com/BobWu1998/uncertainty_quant_all.git

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Abstract:In this work, we study statistical learning with dependent ($\beta$-mixing) data and square loss in a hypothesis class $\mathscr{F}\subset L_{\Psi_p}$ where $\Psi_p$ is the norm $\|f\|_{\Psi_p} \triangleq \sup_{m\geq 1} m^{-1/p} \|f\|_{L^m} $ for some $p\in [2,\infty]$. Our inquiry is motivated by the search for a sharp noise interaction term, or variance proxy, in learning with dependent data. Absent any realizability assumption, typical non-asymptotic results exhibit variance proxies that are deflated \emph{multiplicatively} by the mixing time of the underlying covariates process. We show that whenever the topologies of $L^2$ and $\Psi_p$ are comparable on our hypothesis class $\mathscr{F}$ -- that is, $\mathscr{F}$ is a weakly sub-Gaussian class: $\|f\|_{\Psi_p} \lesssim \|f\|_{L^2}^\eta$ for some $\eta\in (0,1]$ -- the empirical risk minimizer achieves a rate that only depends on the complexity of the class and second order statistics in its leading term. Our result holds whether the problem is realizable or not and we refer to this as a \emph{near mixing-free rate}, since direct dependence on mixing is relegated to an additive higher order term. We arrive at our result by combining the above notion of a weakly sub-Gaussian class with mixed tail generic chaining. This combination allows us to compute sharp, instance-optimal rates for a wide range of problems. %Our approach, reliant on mixed tail generic chaining, allows us to obtain sharp, instance-optimal rates. Examples that satisfy our framework include sub-Gaussian linear regression, more general smoothly parameterized function classes, finite hypothesis classes, and bounded smoothness classes.

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