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  1. null (Ed.)
    The difficulty of optimal control problems has classically been characterized in terms of system properties such as minimum eigenvalues of controllability/observability gramians. We revisit these characterizations in the context of the increasing popularity of data-driven techniques like reinforcement learning (RL) in control settings where input observations are high-dimensional images and transition dynamics are not known beforehand. Specifically, we ask: to what extent are quantifiable control and perceptual difficulty metrics of a control task predictive of the performance of various families of data-driven controllers? We modulate two different types of partial observability in a cartpole “stick-balancing” problem–the height of one visible fixation point on the cartpole, which can be used to tune fundamental limits of performance achievable by any controller, and by using depth or RGB image observations of the scene, we add different levels of perception noise without affecting system dynamics. In these settings, we empirically study two popular families of controllers: RL and system identification-based H-infinity control, using visually estimated system state. Our results show the fundamental limits of robust control have corresponding implications for the sample-efficiency and performance of learned perception-based controllers. 
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  2. We present a closed-loop multi-arm motion planner that is scalable and flexible with team size. Traditional multi-arm robotic systems have relied on centralized motion planners, whose run times often scale exponentially with team size, and thus, fail to handle dynamic environments with open-loop control. In this paper, we tackle this problem with multi-agent reinforcement learning, where a shared policy network is trained to control each individual robot arm to reach its target end-effector pose given observations of its workspace state and target end-effector pose. The policy is trained using Soft Actor-Critic with expert demonstrations from a sampling-based motion planning algorithm (i.e., BiRRT). By leveraging classical planning algorithms, we can improve the learning efficiency of the reinforcement learning algorithm while retaining the fast inference time of neural networks. The resulting policy scales sub-linearly and can be deployed on multi-arm systems with variable team sizes. Thanks to the closed-loop and decentralized formulation, our approach generalizes to 5-10 multiarm systems and dynamic moving targets (>90% success rate for a 10-arm system), despite being trained on only 1-4 arm planning tasks with static targets. 
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