Toward Generalized Sim-to-Real Transfer for Robot Learning

Daniel Ho, Software Engineer, The Everyday Robot Project and Kanishka Rao, Staff Software Engineer, Robotics at Google

Reinforcement and imitation learning methods in robotics research can enable autonomous environmental navigation and efficient object manipulation, which in turn opens up a breadth of useful real-life applications. Previous work has demonstrated how robots that learn end-to-end using deep neural networks can reliably and safely interact with the unstructured world around us by comprehending camera observations to take actions and solve tasks. However, while end-to-end learning methods can generalize and scale for complicated robot manipulation tasks, they require hundreds of thousands real world robot training episodes, which can be difficult to obtain. One can attempt to alleviate this constraint by using a simulation of the environment that allows virtual robots to learn more quickly and at scale, but the simulations’ inability to exactly match the real world presents a challenge c ommonly referred to as the sim-to-real gap. One important source of the gap comes from discrepancies between the images rendered in simulation and the real robot camera observations, which then causes the robot to perform poorly in the real world.

To-date, work on bridging this gap has employed a technique called pixel-level domain adaptation, which translates synthetic images to realistic ones at the pixel level. One example of this technique is GraspGAN, which employs a generative adversarial network (GAN), a framework that has been very effective at image generation, to model this transformation between simulated and real images given datasets of each domain. These pseudo-real images correct some sim-to-real gap, so policies learned with simulation execute more successfully on real robots. A limitation for their use in sim-to-real transfer, however, is that because GANs translate images at the pixel-level, multi-pixel features or structures that are necessary for robot task learning may be arbitrarily modified or even removed.

To address the above limitation, and in collaboration

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