Purdue University Graduate School
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Approaches for Efficient Autonomous Exploration using Deep Reinforcement Learning

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posted on 2020-04-24, 02:25 authored by Thomas MolnarThomas Molnar

For autonomous exploration of complex and unknown environments, existing Deep Reinforcement Learning (Deep RL) approaches struggle to generalize from computer simulations to real world instances. Deep RL methods typically exhibit low sample efficiency, requiring a large amount of data to develop an optimal policy function for governing an agent's behavior. RL agents expect well-shaped and frequent rewards to receive feedback for updating policies. Yet in real world instances, rewards and feedback tend to be infrequent and sparse.

For sparse reward environments, an intrinsic reward generator can be utilized to facilitate progression towards an optimal policy function. The proposed Augmented Curiosity Modules (ACMs) extend the Intrinsic Curiosity Module (ICM) by Pathak et al. These modules utilize depth image and optical flow predictions with intrinsic rewards to improve sample efficiency. Additionally, the proposed Capsules Exploration Module (Caps-EM) pairs a Capsule Network, rather than a Convolutional Neural Network, architecture with an A2C algorithm. This provides a more compact architecture without need for intrinsic rewards, which the ICM and ACMs require. Tested using ViZDoom for experimentation in visually rich and sparse feature scenarios, both the Depth-Augmented Curiosity Module (D-ACM) and Caps-EM improve autonomous exploration performance and sample efficiency over the ICM. The Caps-EM is superior, using 44% and 83% fewer trainable network parameters than the ICM and D-ACM, respectively. On average across all “My Way Home” scenarios, the Caps-EM converges to a policy function with 1141% and 437% time improvements over the ICM and D-ACM, respectively.


Purdue Military Research Initiative (PMRI)


Degree Type

  • Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering


  • Electrical and Computer Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Eugenio Culurciello

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Zhongmong Liu

Additional Committee Member 2

Avinash Kak