Refined Continuous Control of DDPG Actors via Parametrised Activation

Publication Type:
Journal Article
AI, 2021, 2, (4), pp. 464-476
Issue Date:
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Continuous action spaces impose a serious challenge for reinforcement learning agents. While several off-policy reinforcement learning algorithms provide a universal solution to continuous control problems, the real challenge lies in the fact that different actuators feature different response functions due to wear and tear (in mechanical systems) and fatigue (in biomechanical systems). In this paper, we propose enhancing the actor-critic reinforcement learning agents by parameterising the final layer in the actor network. This layer produces the actions to accommodate the behaviour discrepancy of different actuators under different load conditions during interaction with the environment. To achieve this, the actor is trained to learn the tuning parameter controlling the activation layer (e.g., Tanh and Sigmoid). The learned parameters are then used to create tailored activation functions for each actuator. We ran experiments on three OpenAI Gym environments, i.e., Pendulum-v0, LunarLanderContinuous-v2, and BipedalWalker-v2. Results showed an average of 23.15% and 33.80% increase in total episode reward of the LunarLanderContinuous-v2 and BipedalWalker-v2 environments, respectively. There was no apparent improvement in Pendulum-v0 environment but the proposed method produces a more stable actuation signal compared to the state-of-the-art method. The proposed method allows the reinforcement learning actor to produce more robust actions that accommodate the discrepancy in the actuators’ response functions. This is particularly useful for real life scenarios where actuators exhibit different response functions depending on the load and the interaction with the environment. This also simplifies the transfer learning problem by fine-tuning the parameterised activation layers instead of retraining the entire policy every time an actuator is replaced. Finally, the proposed method would allow better accommodation to biological actuators (e.g., muscles) in biomechanical systems.
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