Causal Navigation by Continuous-time Neural Networks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Charles Vorbach, Ramin Hasani, Alexander Amini, Mathias Lechner, Daniela Rus


Imitation learning enables high-fidelity, vision-based learning of policies within rich, photorealistic environments. However, such techniques often rely on traditional discrete-time neural models and face difficulties in generalizing to domain shifts by failing to account for the causal relationships between the agent and the environment. In this paper, we propose a theoretical and experimental framework for learning causal representations using continuous-time neural networks, specifically over their discrete-time counterparts. We evaluate our method in the context of visual-control learning of drones over a series of complex tasks, ranging from short- and long-term navigation, to chasing static and dynamic objects through photorealistic environments. Our results demonstrate that causal continuous-time deep models can perform robust navigation tasks, where advanced recurrent models fail. These models learn complex causal control representations directly from raw visual inputs and scale to solve a variety of tasks using imitation learning.