Learning Barrier Certificates: Towards Safe Reinforcement Learning with Zero Training-time Violations

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

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Yuping Luo, Tengyu Ma


Training-time safety violations have been a major concern when we deploy reinforcement learning algorithms in the real world.This paper explores the possibility of safe RL algorithms with zero training-time safety violations in the challenging setting where we are only given a safe but trivial-reward initial policy without any prior knowledge of the dynamics and additional offline data.We propose an algorithm, Co-trained Barrier Certificate for Safe RL (CRABS), which iteratively learns barrier certificates, dynamics models, and policies. The barrier certificates are learned via adversarial training and ensure the policy's safety assuming calibrated learned dynamics. We also add a regularization term to encourage larger certified regions to enable better exploration. Empirical simulations show that zero safety violations are already challenging for a suite of simple environments with only 2-4 dimensional state space, especially if high-reward policies have to visit regions near the safety boundary. Prior methods require hundreds of violations to achieve decent rewards on these tasks, whereas our proposed algorithms incur zero violations.