CO-PILOT: COllaborative Planning and reInforcement Learning On sub-Task curriculum

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)

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Shuang Ao, Tianyi Zhou, Guodong Long, Qinghua Lu, Liming Zhu, Jing Jiang


Goal-conditioned reinforcement learning (RL) usually suffers from sparse reward and inefficient exploration in long-horizon tasks. Planning can find the shortest path to a distant goal that provides dense reward/guidance but is inaccurate without a precise environment model. We show that RL and planning can collaboratively learn from each other to overcome their own drawbacks. In ''CO-PILOT'', a learnable path-planner and an RL agent produce dense feedback to train each other on a curriculum of tree-structured sub-tasks. Firstly, the planner recursively decomposes a long-horizon task to a tree of sub-tasks in a top-down manner, whose layers construct coarse-to-fine sub-task sequences as plans to complete the original task. The planning policy is trained to minimize the RL agent's cost of completing the sequence in each layer from top to bottom layers, which gradually increases the sub-tasks and thus forms an easy-to-hard curriculum for the planner. Next, a bottom-up traversal of the tree trains the RL agent from easier sub-tasks with denser rewards on bottom layers to harder ones on top layers and collects its cost on each sub-task train the planner in the next episode. CO-PILOT repeats this mutual training for multiple episodes before switching to a new task, so the RL agent and planner are fully optimized to facilitate each other's training. We compare CO-PILOT with RL (SAC, HER, PPO), planning (RRT*, NEXT, SGT), and their combination (SoRB) on navigation and continuous control tasks. CO-PILOT significantly improves the success rate and sample efficiency.