MIT and Stanford Researchers Developed a Machine-Learning Technique that can Efficiently Learn to Control a Robot, Leading to Better Performance with Less Data

Researchers from MIT and Stanford University have introduced a novel machine-learning technique that has the potential to revolutionize the control of robots, such as drones and autonomous vehicles, in dynamic environments with rapidly changing conditions.

The innovative approach incorporates principles from control theory into the machine learning process, allowing for the creation of more efficient and effective controllers. The researchers aimed to learn intrinsic structures within the system dynamics that could be leveraged to design superior stabilizing controllers.

At the core of the technique is the integration of control-oriented structures into the model learning process. By jointly learning the system’s dynamics and these unique control-oriented structures from data, the researchers were able to generate controllers that perform remarkably well in real-world scenarios.

Unlike traditional machine-learning methods that require separate steps to derive or learn controllers, this new approach immediately extracts an effective controller from the learned model. Moreover, the technique achieves better performance with fewer data due to the inclusion of these control-oriented structures, making it particularly valuable in rapidly changing environments.

The method draws inspiration from how roboticists utilize physics to derive simpler robot models. These manually derived models capture essential structural relationships based on the physics of the system. However, in complex systems where manual modeling becomes infeasible, researchers often use machine learning to fit a model to the data. The challenge with existing approaches is that they overlook control-based structures, which are crucial for optimizing controller performance.

The MIT and Stanford team’s technique addresses this limitation by incorporating control-oriented structures during machine learning. By doing so, they extract controllers directly from the learned dynamics model, effectively marrying the physics-inspired approach with data-driven learning.

During testing, the new controller closely followed desired trajectories and outperformed various baseline methods. Remarkably, the controller derived from the learned model almost matched the performance of a ground-truth controller, which is built using exact system dynamics.

The technique was also highly data-efficient, achieving outstanding performance with minimal data points. In contrast, other methods that utilized multiple learned components experienced a rapid decline in performance with smaller datasets.

This data efficiency is particularly promising for scenarios where robots or drones must adapt quickly to rapidly changing conditions, approaching well-suited for real-world applications.

One of the noteworthy aspects of the research is its generality. The approach can be applied to various dynamical systems, including robotic arms and free-flying spacecraft operating in low-gravity environments.

Looking ahead, the researchers are interested in developing more interpretable models, allowing for identifying specific information about a dynamical system. This could lead to even better-performing controllers, further advancing the field of nonlinear feedback control.

Experts from the field have praised the contributions of this research, particularly highlighting the integration of control-oriented structures as an inductive bias in the learning process. This conceptual innovation has led to a highly efficient learning process, resulting in dynamic models with intrinsic structures conducive to effective, stable, and robust control.

By incorporating control-oriented structures during the learning process, this technique opens up exciting possibilities for more efficient and effective controllers, bringing us one step closer to a future where robots can navigate complex scenarios with remarkable skill and adaptability.

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Niharika is a Technical consulting intern at Marktechpost. She is a third year undergraduate, currently pursuing her B.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology(IIT), Kharagpur. She is a highly enthusiastic individual with a keen interest in Machine learning, Data science and AI and an avid reader of the latest developments in these fields.

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