An Application of Reinforcement Learning to Aerobatic Helicopter Flight

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 19 (NIPS 2006)

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Pieter Abbeel, Adam Coates, Morgan Quigley, Andrew Ng


Autonomous helicopter flight is widely regarded to be a highly challenging control problem. This paper presents the first successful autonomous completion on a real RC helicopter of the following four aerobatic maneuvers: forward flip and sideways roll at low speed, tail-in funnel, and nose-in funnel. Our experimental results significantly extend the state of the art in autonomous helicopter flight. We used the following approach: First we had a pilot fly the helicopter to help us find a helicopter dynamics model and a reward (cost) function. Then we used a reinforcement learning (optimal control) algorithm to find a controller that is optimized for the resulting model and reward function. More specifically, we used differential dynamic programming (DDP), an extension of the linear quadratic regulator (LQR).