Learning to Seek: Autonomous Source Seeking with Deep Reinforcement Learning Onboard a Nano Drone Microcontroller

We present fully autonomous source seeking onboard a highly constrained nano quadcopter, by contributing application-specific system and observation feature design to enable inference of a deep-RL policy onboard a nano quadcopter. Our deep-RL algorithm finds a high-performance solution to a challenging problem, even in presence of high noise levels and generalizes across real and simulation environments with different obstacle configurations. We verify our approach with simulation and in-field testing on a Bitcraze CrazyFlie using only the cheap and ubiquitous Cortex-M4 microcontroller unit. The results show that by end-to-end application-specific system design, our contribution consumes almost three times less additional power, as compared to competing learning-based navigation approach onboard a nano quadcopter. Thanks to our observation space, which we carefully design within the resource constraints, our solution achieves a 94% success rate in cluttered and randomized test environments, as compared to the previously achieved 80%. We also compare our strategy to a simple finite state machine (FSM), geared towards efficient exploration, and demonstrate that our policy is more robust and resilient at obstacle avoidance as well as up to 70% more efficient in source seeking. To this end, we contribute a cheap and lightweight end-to-end tiny robot learning (tinyRL) solution, running onboard a nano quadcopter, that proves to be robust and efficient in a challenging task using limited sensory input.

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