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Exploratory Robotic Controllers : An Evolution and Information Theory Driven Approach

Abstract : This thesis is concerned with building autonomous exploratory robotic controllers in an online, on-board approach, with no requirement for ground truth or human intervention in the experimental setting.This study is primarily motivated by autonomous robotics, specifically autonomous robot swarms. In this context, one faces two difficulties. Firstly, standard simulator-based approaches are hardly effective due to computational efficiency and accuracy reasons. On the one hand, the simulator accuracy is hindered by the variability of the hardware; on the other hand, this approach faces a super-linear computational complexity w.r.t. the number of robots in the swarm. Secondly, the standard goal-driven approach used for controller design does not apply as there is no explicit objective function at the individual level, since the objective is defined at the swarm level.A first step toward autonomous exploratory controllers is proposed in the thesis. The Evolution & Information Theory-based Exploratory Robotics (Ev-ITER) approach is based on the hybridization of two approaches stemming from Evolutionary Robotics and from Reinforcement Learning, with the goal of getting the best of both worlds: (i) primary controllers, or crawling controllers, are evolved in order to generate sensori-motor trajectories with high entropy; (ii) the data repository built from the crawling controllers is exploited, providing prior knowledge to secondary controllers, inspired from the intrinsic robust motivation setting and achieving the thorough exploration of the environment.The contributions of the thesis are threefold. Firstly, Ev-ITER fulfills the desired requirement: it runs online, on-board and without requiring any ground truth or support. Secondly, Ev-ITER outperforms both the evolutionary and the information theory-based approaches standalone, in terms of actual exploration of the arena. Thirdly and most importantly, the Ev-ITER controller features some generality property, being able to efficiently explore other arenas than the one considered during the first evolutionary phase. It must be emphasized that the generality of the learned controller with respect to the considered environment has rarely been considered, neither in the reinforcement learning, nor in evolutionary robotics.
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Guohua Zhang. Exploratory Robotic Controllers : An Evolution and Information Theory Driven Approach. Robotics [cs.RO]. Université Paris Sud - Paris XI, 2015. English. ⟨NNT : 2015PA112208⟩. ⟨tel-01280059⟩

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