Scalable Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning for Warehouse Logistics with Robotic and Human Co-Workers

We envision a warehouse in which dozens of mobile robots and human pickers work together to collect and deliver items within the warehouse. The fundamental problem we tackle, called the order-picking problem, is how these worker agents must coordinate their movement and actions in the warehouse to maximise performance (e.g. order throughput). Established industry methods using heuristic approaches require large engineering efforts to optimise for innately variable warehouse configurations. In contrast, multi-agent reinforcement learning (MARL) can be flexibly applied to diverse warehouse configurations (e.g. size, layout, number/types of workers, item replenishment frequency), as the agents learn through experience how to optimally cooperate with one another. We develop hierarchical MARL algorithms in which a manager assigns goals to worker agents, and the policies of the manager and workers are co-trained toward maximising a global objective (e.g. pick rate). Our hierarchical algorithms achieve significant gains in sample efficiency and overall pick rates over baseline MARL algorithms in diverse warehouse configurations, and substantially outperform two established industry heuristics for order-picking systems.

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