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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
  2. Insects are possibly the most taxonomically and ecologically diverse class of multicellular organisms on Earth. Consequently, they provide nearly unlimited opportunities to develop and test ecological and evolutionary hypotheses. Currently, however, large-scale studies of insect ecology, behavior, and trait evolution are impeded by the difficulty in obtaining and analyzing data derived from natural history observations of insects. These data are typically highly heterogeneous and widely scattered among many sources, which makes developing robust information systems to aggregate and disseminate them a significant challenge. As a step towards this goal, we report initial results of a new effort to develop a standardized vocabulary and ontology for insect natural history data. In particular, we describe a new database of representative insect natural history data derived from multiple sources (but focused on data from specimens in biological collections), an analysis of the abstract conceptual areas required for a comprehensive ontology of insect natural history data, and a database of use cases and competency questions to guide the development of data systems for insect natural history data. We also discuss data modeling and technology-related challenges that must be overcome to implement robust integration of insect natural history data.