Multilayered skill learning and movement coordination for autonomous robotic agents
With advances in technology expanding the capabilities of robots, while at the same time making robots cheaper to manufacture, robots are rapidly becoming more prevalent in both industrial and domestic settings. An increase in the number of robots, and the likely subsequent decrease in the ratio of people currently trained to directly control the robots, engenders a need for robots to be able to act autonomously. Larger numbers of robots present together provide new challenges and opportunities for developing complex autonomous robot behaviors capable of multirobot collaboration and coordination.
The focus of this thesis is twofold. The first part explores applying machine learning techniques to teach simulated humanoid robots skills such as how to move or walk and manipulate objects in their environment. Learning is performed using reinforcement learning policy search methods, and layered learning methodologies are employed during the learning process in which multiple lower level skills are incrementally learned and combined with each other to develop richer higher level skills. By incrementally learning skills in layers such that new skills are learned in the presence of previously learned skills, as opposed to individually in isolation, we ensure that the learned skills will work well together and can be combined to perform complex behaviors (e.g. playing soccer). The second part of the thesis centers on developing algorithms to coordinate the movement and efforts of multiple robots working together to quickly complete tasks. These algorithms prioritize minimizing the makespan, or time for all robots to complete a task, while also attempting to avoid interference and collisions among the robots. An underlying objective of this research is to develop techniques and methodologies that allow autonomous robots to robustly interact with their environment (through skill learning) and with each other (through movement coordination) in order to perform tasks and accomplish goals asked of them.
The work in this thesis is implemented and evaluated in the RoboCup 3D simulation soccer domain, and has been a key component of the UT Austin Villa team winning the RoboCup 3D simulation league world championship six out of the past seven years.