Optimizing Gait Libraries via a Coverage Metric

Brian Bittner, Shai Revzen

Many robots move through the world by composing locomotion primitives like steps and turns. To do so well, robots need not have primitives that make intuitive sense to humans. This becomes of paramount importance when robots are damaged and no longer move as designed. Here we propose a goal function we call "coverage", that represents the usefulness of a library of locomotion primitives in a manner agnostic to the particulars of the primitives themselves. We demonstrate the ability to optimize coverage on both simulated and physical robots, and show that coverage can be rapidly recovered after injury. This suggests that by optimizing for coverage, robots can sustain their ability to navigate through the world even in the face of significant mechanical failures. The benefits of this approach are enhanced by sample-efficient, data-driven approaches to system identification that can rapidly inform the optimization of primitives. We found that the number of degrees of freedom improved the rate of recovery of our simulated robots, a rare result in the fields of gait optimization and reinforcement learning. We showed that a robot with limbs made of tree branches (for which no CAD model or first principles model was available) is able to quickly find an effective high-coverage library of motion primitives. The optimized primitives are entirely non-obvious to a human observer, and thus are unlikely to be attainable through manual tuning.

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