Adapting to unseen driving conditions using context-aware neural networks

Abdulquddos, Suhaib
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One of the primary inhibitors to successful deployment of autonomous agents in real-world tasks such as driving is their poor ability to adapt to unseen conditions. Whereas a human might be able to deduce the best course of action when confronted with an unfamiliar set of conditions based on past experiences, artificial agents have difficulty performing in conditions that are significantly different from those in which they were trained.

This thesis explores an approach in which the addition of a context module to a neural network is used to overcome the challenge of adapting to unseen conditions during evaluation. The approach is tested in the CARLA simulator wherein the torque and steering curves of a vehicle are modified during training and evaluation. Furthermore the agent is trained only on a track with a relatively large radius of curvature but is evaluated on a track with much sharper turns and the agent must learn to adapt its speed and steering during evaluation. Three different neural network architectures are used for these experiments, and their respective performances are compared: Context+Skill, Context only, Skill only. It is observed that when both performance and safety of agents behavior are considered, the context+skill network consistently outperforms both the skill only and the context only architectures.

The results presented in this thesis indicate that the context aware approach is a promising step towards solving the generalization problem in the autonomous vehicle domain. Furthermore, this research presents a framework for comparing the generalization capabilities of various network architectures and approaches. It is posited that the context+skill neural network has the potential to advance the field of machine learning with regards to generalization in domains beyond just autonomous driving; that is, any domain where awareness of changing environment parameters can have a positive impact on performance.