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  1. A major challenge in real-world reinforcement learning (RL) is the sparsity of reward feedback. Often, what is available is an intuitive but sparse reward function that only indicates whether the task is completed partially or fully. However, the lack of carefully designed, fine grain feedback implies that most existing RL algorithms fail to learn an acceptable policy in a reasonable time frame. This is because of the large number of exploration actions that the policy has to perform before it gets any useful feedback that it can learn from. In this work, we address this challenging problem by developing an algorithm that exploits the offline demonstration data generated by a sub-optimal behavior policy for faster and efficient online RL in such sparse reward settings. The proposed algorithm, which we call the Learning Online with Guidance Offline (LOGO) algorithm, merges a policy improvement step with an additional policy guidance step by using the offline demonstration data. The key idea is that by obtaining guidance from - not imitating - the offline data, LOGO orients its policy in the manner of the sub-optimal policy, while yet being able to learn beyond and approach optimality. We provide a theoretical analysis of our algorithm,more »and provide a lower bound on the performance improvement in each learning episode. We also extend our algorithm to the even more challenging incomplete observation setting, where the demonstration data contains only a censored version of the true state observation. We demonstrate the superior performance of our algorithm over state-of-the-art approaches on a number of benchmark environments with sparse rewards and censored state. Further, we demonstrate the value of our approach via implementing LOGO on a mobile robot for trajectory tracking and obstacle avoidance, where it shows excellent performance.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023