Bayesian Learning for Data-Efficient Control

Change log
McAllister, Rowan 

Applications to learn control of unfamiliar dynamical systems with increasing autonomy are ubiquitous. From robotics, to finance, to industrial processing, autonomous learning helps obviate a heavy reliance on experts for system identification and controller design. Often real world systems are nonlinear, stochastic, and expensive to operate (e.g. slow, energy intensive, prone to wear and tear). Ideally therefore, nonlinear systems can be identified with minimal system interaction. This thesis considers data efficient autonomous learning of control of nonlinear, stochastic systems. Data efficient learning critically requires probabilistic modelling of dynamics. Traditional control approaches use deterministic models, which easily overfit data, especially small datasets. We use probabilistic Bayesian modelling to learn systems from scratch, similar to the PILCO algorithm, which achieved unprecedented data efficiency in learning control of several benchmarks. We extend PILCO in three principle ways. First, we learn control under significant observation noise by simulating a filtered control process using a tractably analytic framework of Gaussian distributions. In addition, we develop the ‘latent variable belief Markov decision process’ when filters must predict under real-time constraints. Second, we improve PILCO’s data efficiency by directing exploration with predictive loss uncertainty and Bayesian optimisation, including a novel approximation to the Gittins index. Third, we take a step towards data efficient learning of high-dimensional control using Bayesian neural networks (BNN). Experimentally we show although filtering mitigates adverse effects of observation noise, much greater performance is achieved when optimising controllers with evaluations faithful to reality: by simulating closed-loop filtered control if executing closed-loop filtered control. Thus, controllers are optimised w.r.t. how they are used, outperforming filters applied to systems optimised by unfiltered simulations. We show directed exploration improves data efficiency. Lastly, we show BNN dynamics models are almost as data efficient as Gaussian process models. Results show data efficient learning of high-dimensional control is possible as BNNs scale to high-dimensional state inputs.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge