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A Differentiable Newton-Euler Algorithm for Real-World Robotics

Michael Lutter; Johannes Silberbauer; Joe Watson; Jan Peters
In: Computing Research Repository eprint Journal (CoRR), Vol. abs/2110.12422, Pages 0-10, arXiv, 2021.


Obtaining dynamics models is essential for robotics to achieve accurate model-based controllers and simulators for planning. The dynamics models are typically obtained using model specification of the manufacturer or simple numerical methods such as linear regression. However, this approach does not guarantee physically plausible parameters and can only be applied to kinematic chains consisting of rigid bodies. In this article, we describe a differentiable simulator that can be used to identify the system parameters of real-world mechanical systems with complex friction models, holonomic as well as non-holonomic constraints. To guarantee physically consistent parameters, we utilize virtual parameters and gradient-based optimization. The described Differentiable Newton-Euler Algorithm (DiffNEA) can be applied to a class of dynamical systems and guarantees physically plausible predictions. The extensive experimental evaluation shows, that the proposed model learning approach learns accurate dynamics models of systems with complex friction and non-holonomic constraints. Especially in the offline reinforcement learning experiments, the identified DiffNEA models excel. For the challenging ball in a cup task, these models solve the task using model-based offline reinforcement learning on the physical system. The black-box baselines fail on this task in simulation and on the physical system despite using more data for learning the model.

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