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Abstract:We consider the problem of controlling a Linear Quadratic Regulator (LQR) system over a finite horizon $T$ with fixed and known cost matrices $Q,R$, but unknown and non-stationary dynamics $\{A_t, B_t\}$. The sequence of dynamics matrices can be arbitrary, but with a total variation, $V_T$, assumed to be $o(T)$ and unknown to the controller. Under the assumption that a sequence of stabilizing, but potentially sub-optimal controllers is available for all $t$, we present an algorithm that achieves the optimal dynamic regret of $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}\left(V_T^{2/5}T^{3/5}\right)$. With piece-wise constant dynamics, our algorithm achieves the optimal regret of $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(\sqrt{ST})$ where $S$ is the number of switches. The crux of our algorithm is an adaptive non-stationarity detection strategy, which builds on an approach recently developed for contextual Multi-armed Bandit problems. We also argue that non-adaptive forgetting (e.g., restarting or using sliding window learning with a static window size) may not be regret optimal for the LQR problem, even when the window size is optimally tuned with the knowledge of $V_T$. The main technical challenge in the analysis of our algorithm is to prove that the ordinary least squares (OLS) estimator has a small bias when the parameter to be estimated is non-stationary. Our analysis also highlights that the key motif driving the regret is that the LQR problem is in spirit a bandit problem with linear feedback and locally quadratic cost. This motif is more universal than the LQR problem itself, and therefore we believe our results should find wider application.