Alert button
Picture for Pulkit Agrawal

Pulkit Agrawal

Alert button

Learning to See Physical Properties with Active Sensing Motor Policies

Nov 02, 2023
Gabriel B. Margolis, Xiang Fu, Yandong Ji, Pulkit Agrawal

Knowledge of terrain's physical properties inferred from color images can aid in making efficient robotic locomotion plans. However, unlike image classification, it is unintuitive for humans to label image patches with physical properties. Without labeled data, building a vision system that takes as input the observed terrain and predicts physical properties remains challenging. We present a method that overcomes this challenge by self-supervised labeling of images captured by robots during real-world traversal with physical property estimators trained in simulation. To ensure accurate labeling, we introduce Active Sensing Motor Policies (ASMP), which are trained to explore locomotion behaviors that increase the accuracy of estimating physical parameters. For instance, the quadruped robot learns to swipe its foot against the ground to estimate the friction coefficient accurately. We show that the visual system trained with a small amount of real-world traversal data accurately predicts physical parameters. The trained system is robust and works even with overhead images captured by a drone despite being trained on data collected by cameras attached to a quadruped robot walking on the ground.

* In CoRL 2023. Website: 
Viaarxiv icon

Autonomous Robotic Reinforcement Learning with Asynchronous Human Feedback

Oct 31, 2023
Max Balsells, Marcel Torne, Zihan Wang, Samedh Desai, Pulkit Agrawal, Abhishek Gupta

Ideally, we would place a robot in a real-world environment and leave it there improving on its own by gathering more experience autonomously. However, algorithms for autonomous robotic learning have been challenging to realize in the real world. While this has often been attributed to the challenge of sample complexity, even sample-efficient techniques are hampered by two major challenges - the difficulty of providing well "shaped" rewards, and the difficulty of continual reset-free training. In this work, we describe a system for real-world reinforcement learning that enables agents to show continual improvement by training directly in the real world without requiring painstaking effort to hand-design reward functions or reset mechanisms. Our system leverages occasional non-expert human-in-the-loop feedback from remote users to learn informative distance functions to guide exploration while leveraging a simple self-supervised learning algorithm for goal-directed policy learning. We show that in the absence of resets, it is particularly important to account for the current "reachability" of the exploration policy when deciding which regions of the space to explore. Based on this insight, we instantiate a practical learning system - GEAR, which enables robots to simply be placed in real-world environments and left to train autonomously without interruption. The system streams robot experience to a web interface only requiring occasional asynchronous feedback from remote, crowdsourced, non-expert humans in the form of binary comparative feedback. We evaluate this system on a suite of robotic tasks in simulation and demonstrate its effectiveness at learning behaviors both in simulation and the real world. Project website

* Project website 
Viaarxiv icon

Human-Guided Complexity-Controlled Abstractions

Oct 27, 2023
Andi Peng, Mycal Tucker, Eoin Kenny, Noga Zaslavsky, Pulkit Agrawal, Julie Shah

Neural networks often learn task-specific latent representations that fail to generalize to novel settings or tasks. Conversely, humans learn discrete representations (i.e., concepts or words) at a variety of abstraction levels (e.g., "bird" vs. "sparrow") and deploy the appropriate abstraction based on task. Inspired by this, we train neural models to generate a spectrum of discrete representations, and control the complexity of the representations (roughly, how many bits are allocated for encoding inputs) by tuning the entropy of the distribution over representations. In finetuning experiments, using only a small number of labeled examples for a new task, we show that (1) tuning the representation to a task-appropriate complexity level supports the highest finetuning performance, and (2) in a human-participant study, users were able to identify the appropriate complexity level for a downstream task using visualizations of discrete representations. Our results indicate a promising direction for rapid model finetuning by leveraging human insight.

* NeurIPS 2023 
Viaarxiv icon

Neuro-Inspired Fragmentation and Recall to Overcome Catastrophic Forgetting in Curiosity

Oct 26, 2023
Jaedong Hwang, Zhang-Wei Hong, Eric Chen, Akhilan Boopathy, Pulkit Agrawal, Ila Fiete

Deep reinforcement learning methods exhibit impressive performance on a range of tasks but still struggle on hard exploration tasks in large environments with sparse rewards. To address this, intrinsic rewards can be generated using forward model prediction errors that decrease as the environment becomes known, and incentivize an agent to explore novel states. While prediction-based intrinsic rewards can help agents solve hard exploration tasks, they can suffer from catastrophic forgetting and actually increase at visited states. We first examine the conditions and causes of catastrophic forgetting in grid world environments. We then propose a new method FARCuriosity, inspired by how humans and animals learn. The method depends on fragmentation and recall: an agent fragments an environment based on surprisal, and uses different local curiosity modules (prediction-based intrinsic reward functions) for each fragment so that modules are not trained on the entire environment. At each fragmentation event, the agent stores the current module in long-term memory (LTM) and either initializes a new module or recalls a previously stored module based on its match with the current state. With fragmentation and recall, FARCuriosity achieves less forgetting and better overall performance in games with varied and heterogeneous environments in the Atari benchmark suite of tasks. Thus, this work highlights the problem of catastrophic forgetting in prediction-based curiosity methods and proposes a solution.

* NeurIPS 2023 Workshop - Intrinsically Motivated Open-ended Learning 
Viaarxiv icon

Beyond Uniform Sampling: Offline Reinforcement Learning with Imbalanced Datasets

Oct 12, 2023
Zhang-Wei Hong, Aviral Kumar, Sathwik Karnik, Abhishek Bhandwaldar, Akash Srivastava, Joni Pajarinen, Romain Laroche, Abhishek Gupta, Pulkit Agrawal

Offline policy learning is aimed at learning decision-making policies using existing datasets of trajectories without collecting additional data. The primary motivation for using reinforcement learning (RL) instead of supervised learning techniques such as behavior cloning is to find a policy that achieves a higher average return than the trajectories constituting the dataset. However, we empirically find that when a dataset is dominated by suboptimal trajectories, state-of-the-art offline RL algorithms do not substantially improve over the average return of trajectories in the dataset. We argue this is due to an assumption made by current offline RL algorithms of staying close to the trajectories in the dataset. If the dataset primarily consists of sub-optimal trajectories, this assumption forces the policy to mimic the suboptimal actions. We overcome this issue by proposing a sampling strategy that enables the policy to only be constrained to ``good data" rather than all actions in the dataset (i.e., uniform sampling). We present a realization of the sampling strategy and an algorithm that can be used as a plug-and-play module in standard offline RL algorithms. Our evaluation demonstrates significant performance gains in 72 imbalanced datasets, D4RL dataset, and across three different offline RL algorithms. Code is available at

* NeurIPS 2023  
* Accepted NeurIPS 2023 
Viaarxiv icon

Human-Assisted Continual Robot Learning with Foundation Models

Sep 25, 2023
Meenal Parakh, Alisha Fong, Anthony Simeonov, Abhishek Gupta, Tao Chen, Pulkit Agrawal

Large Language Models (LLMs) have been shown to act like planners that can decompose high-level instructions into a sequence of executable instructions. However, current LLM-based planners are only able to operate with a fixed set of skills. We overcome this critical limitation and present a method for using LLM-based planners to query new skills and teach robots these skills in a data and time-efficient manner for rigid object manipulation. Our system can re-use newly acquired skills for future tasks, demonstrating the potential of open world and lifelong learning. We evaluate the proposed framework on multiple tasks in simulation and the real world. Videos are available at:

Viaarxiv icon

Compositional Foundation Models for Hierarchical Planning

Sep 21, 2023
Anurag Ajay, Seungwook Han, Yilun Du, Shuang Li, Abhi Gupta, Tommi Jaakkola, Josh Tenenbaum, Leslie Kaelbling, Akash Srivastava, Pulkit Agrawal

Figure 1 for Compositional Foundation Models for Hierarchical Planning
Figure 2 for Compositional Foundation Models for Hierarchical Planning
Figure 3 for Compositional Foundation Models for Hierarchical Planning
Figure 4 for Compositional Foundation Models for Hierarchical Planning

To make effective decisions in novel environments with long-horizon goals, it is crucial to engage in hierarchical reasoning across spatial and temporal scales. This entails planning abstract subgoal sequences, visually reasoning about the underlying plans, and executing actions in accordance with the devised plan through visual-motor control. We propose Compositional Foundation Models for Hierarchical Planning (HiP), a foundation model which leverages multiple expert foundation model trained on language, vision and action data individually jointly together to solve long-horizon tasks. We use a large language model to construct symbolic plans that are grounded in the environment through a large video diffusion model. Generated video plans are then grounded to visual-motor control, through an inverse dynamics model that infers actions from generated videos. To enable effective reasoning within this hierarchy, we enforce consistency between the models via iterative refinement. We illustrate the efficacy and adaptability of our approach in three different long-horizon table-top manipulation tasks.

* Website: 
Viaarxiv icon

Parallel $Q$-Learning: Scaling Off-policy Reinforcement Learning under Massively Parallel Simulation

Jul 24, 2023
Zechu Li, Tao Chen, Zhang-Wei Hong, Anurag Ajay, Pulkit Agrawal

Reinforcement learning is time-consuming for complex tasks due to the need for large amounts of training data. Recent advances in GPU-based simulation, such as Isaac Gym, have sped up data collection thousands of times on a commodity GPU. Most prior works used on-policy methods like PPO due to their simplicity and ease of scaling. Off-policy methods are more data efficient but challenging to scale, resulting in a longer wall-clock training time. This paper presents a Parallel $Q$-Learning (PQL) scheme that outperforms PPO in wall-clock time while maintaining superior sample efficiency of off-policy learning. PQL achieves this by parallelizing data collection, policy learning, and value learning. Different from prior works on distributed off-policy learning, such as Apex, our scheme is designed specifically for massively parallel GPU-based simulation and optimized to work on a single workstation. In experiments, we demonstrate that $Q$-learning can be scaled to \textit{tens of thousands of parallel environments} and investigate important factors affecting learning speed. The code is available at

* Accepted by ICML 2023 
Viaarxiv icon