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Comparison of Deep Reinforcement Learning Policies to Formal Methods for Moving Obstacle Avoidance

Arpit Garg
Satomi Sugaya
Lydia Tapia
IROS (2019) (to appear)


Deep Reinforcement Learning (RL) has recently emerged as a solution for moving obstacle avoidance. Deep RL learns to simultaneously predict obstacle motions and corresponding avoidance actions directly from robot sensors, even for obstacles with different dynamics models. However, deep RL methods typically cannot guarantee policy convergences, i.e., cannot provide probabilistic collision avoidance guarantees. In contrast, stochastic reachability (SR), a computationally expensive formal method that employs a known obstacle dynamics model, identifies the optimal avoidance policy and provides strict convergence guarantees. The availability of the optimal solution for versions of the moving obstacle problem provides a baseline to compare trained deep RL policies. In this paper, we compare the expected cumulative reward and actions of these policies to SR, and find the following. 1) The state-value function approximates the optimal collision probability well, thus explaining the high empirical performance. 2) RL policies deviate from the optimal significantly thus negatively impacting collision avoidance in some cases. 3) Evidence suggests that the deviation is caused, at least partially, by the actor net failing to approximate the action corresponding to the highest state-action value.