Enhanced Meta Reinforcement Learning via Demonstrations in Sparse Reward Environments

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Desik Rengarajan, Sapana Chaudhary, Jaewon Kim, Dileep Kalathil, Srinivas Shakkottai


Meta reinforcement learning (Meta-RL) is an approach wherein the experience gained from solving a variety of tasks is distilled into a meta-policy. The meta-policy, when adapted over only a small (or just a single) number of steps, is able to perform near-optimally on a new, related task. However, a major challenge to adopting this approach to solve real-world problems is that they are often associated with sparse reward functions that only indicate whether a task is completed partially or fully. We consider the situation where some data, possibly generated by a sub-optimal agent, is available for each task. We then develop a class of algorithms entitled Enhanced Meta-RL via Demonstrations (EMRLD) that exploit this information---even if sub-optimal---to obtain guidance during training. We show how EMRLD jointly utilizes RL and supervised learning over the offline data to generate a meta-policy that demonstrates monotone performance improvements. We also develop a warm started variant called EMRLD-WS that is particularly efficient for sub-optimal demonstration data. Finally, we show that our EMRLD algorithms significantly outperform existing approaches in a variety of sparse reward environments, including that of a mobile robot.