Derivative-Free Failure Avoidance Control for Manipulation using Learned Support Constraints


Learning to accomplish tasks such as driving, grasping or surgery from supervisor demonstrations can be risky when the execution of the learned policy leads to collisions and other costly failures. Adding explicit constraints to stay within safe zones is often not possible when the state representations are complex. Furthermore, enforcing these constraints during execution of the learned policy can be difficult in environments where dynamics are not known. In this paper, we propose a two-phase method for safe control from demonstrations in robotic manipulation tasks where changes in state are limited by the magnitude of control applied. In the first phase, we use support estimation of supervisor demonstrations to infer implicit constraints on states in addition to learning a policy directly from the observed controls. We also propose a time-varying modification to the support estimation problem allowing for accurate estimation on sequential tasks. In the second phase, we present a switching policy to prevent the robot from leaving safe regions of the state space during run time using the decision function of the estimated support. The policy switches between the robot’s learned policy and a novel failure avoidance policy depending on the distance to the boundary of the support. We prove that inferred constraints are guaranteed to be enforced using this failure avoidance policy if the support is well-estimated. A simulated pushing task suggests that support estimation and failure avoidance control can reduce failures by 87% while sacrificing only 40% of performance. On a line tracking task using a da Vinci Surgical Robot, failure avoidance control reduced failures by 84%.

Jonathan Lee, Michael Laskey, Roy Fox, and Ken Goldberg, arXiv, 2018