Adaptive Risk-Tendency: Nano Drone Navigation in Cluttered Environments with Distributional Reinforcement Learning

28 Mar 2022  ·  Cheng Liu, Erik-Jan van Kampen, Guido C. H. E. de Croon ·

Enabling the capability of assessing risk and making risk-aware decisions is essential to applying reinforcement learning to safety-critical robots like drones. In this paper, we investigate a specific case where a nano quadcopter robot learns to navigate an apriori-unknown cluttered environment under partial observability. We present a distributional reinforcement learning framework to generate adaptive risk-tendency policies. Specifically, we propose to use lower tail conditional variance of the learnt return distribution as intrinsic uncertainty estimation, and use exponentially weighted average forecasting (EWAF) to adapt the risk-tendency in accordance with the estimated uncertainty. In simulation and real-world empirical results, we show that (1) the most effective risk-tendency vary across states, (2) the agent with adaptive risk-tendency achieves superior performance compared to risk-neutral policy or risk-averse policy baselines.

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