Learn About Our Meetup

5000+ Members



Join our meetup, learn, connect, share, and get to know your Toronto AI community. 



Browse through the latest deep learning, ai, machine learning postings from Indeed for the GTA.



Are you looking to sponsor space, be a speaker, or volunteer, feel free to give us a shout.

RoboNet: A Dataset for Large-Scale Multi-Robot Learning

This post is cross-listed at the
SAIL Blog and the
CMU ML blog

In the last decade, we’ve seen learning-based systems provide transformative
solutions for a wide range of perception and reasoning problems, from
recognizing objects in

to recognizing and translating human
Recent progress in deep reinforcement learning (i.e. integrating deep neural
networks into reinforcement learning systems) suggests that the same kind of
success could be realized in automated decision making domains. If fruitful,
this line of work could allow learning-based systems to tackle active control
tasks, such as robotics and autonomous driving, alongside the passive
perception tasks to which they have already been successfully applied.

While deep reinforcement learning methods – like Soft Actor
– can learn impressive
motor skills, they are challenging to train on large and broad data that is not
from the target environment. In contrast, the success of deep networks in
fields like computer vision was arguably predicated just as much on large
datasets, such as ImageNet, as it was on large
neural network architectures. This suggests that applying data-driven methods
to robotics will require not just the development of strong reinforcement
learning methods, but also access to large and diverse datasets for robotics.
Not only can large datasets enable models that generalize effectively, but they
can also be used to pre-train models that can then be adapted to more
specialized tasks using much more modest datasets. Indeed, “ImageNet
pre-training” has become a default approach for tackling diverse tasks with
small or medium datasets – like 3D building
Can the same kind of approach be adopted to enable broad generalization and
transfer in active control domains, such as robotics?

Unfortunately, the design and adoption of large datasets in reinforcement
learning and robotics has proven challenging. Since every robotics lab has
their own hardware and experimental set-up, it is not apparent how to move
towards an “ImageNet-scale” dataset for robotics that is useful for the entire
research community. Hence, we propose to collect data across multiple different
settings, including from varying camera viewpoints, varying environments, and
even varying robot platforms. Motivated by the success of large-scale
data-driven learning, we created RoboNet, an extensible and diverse dataset of
robot interaction collected across four
different research
labs. The collaborative
nature of this work allows us to easily capture diverse data in various lab
settings across a wide variety of objects, robotic hardware, and camera
viewpoints. Finally, we find that pre-training on RoboNet offers substantial
performance gains compared to training from scratch in entirely new

Our goal is to pre-train reinforcement learning models on a sufficiently
diverse dataset and then transfer knowledge (either zero-shot or with
fine-tuning) to a different test environment.

Collecting RoboNet

RoboNet consists of 15 million video frames, collected by different robots
interacting with different objects in a table-top setting. Every frame includes
the image recorded by the robot’s camera, arm pose, force sensor readings, and
gripper state. The collection environment, including the camera view, the
appearance of the table or bin, and the objects in front of the robot are
varied between trials. Since collection is entirely autonomous, large amounts
can be cheaply collected across multiple institutions. A sample of RoboNet
along with data statistics is shown below:

A sample of data from RoboNet alongside a summary of the current dataset. Note
that any GIF compression artifacts in this animation are not present in the
dataset itself.

How can we use RoboNet?

After collecting a diverse dataset, we experimentally investigate how it can be
used to enable general skill learning that transfers to new environments.
First, we pre-train visual dynamics
on a subset of data
from RoboNet, and then fine-tune them to work in an unseen test environment
using a small amount of new data. The constructed test environments (one of
which is visualized below) all include different lab settings, new cameras and
viewpoints, held-out robots, and novel objects purchased after data collection

Example test environment constructed in a new lab, with a temporary
uncalibrated camera, and a new Baxter robot. Note that while Baxters are
present in RoboNet that data is not included during model pre-training.

After tuning, we deploy the learned dynamics models in the test environment to
perform control tasks – like picking and placing objects – using the visual
model based
reinforcement learning algorithm. Below are example control tasks executed in
various test environments.

<!– –>Kuka can align shirts next to the others
<!– –>Baxter can sweep the table with cloth
<!– –>Franka can grasp and reposition the markers
<!– –> Kuka can move the plate to the edge of the table
<!– –>Baxter can pick up and reposition socks
<!– –>Franka can stack the towel on the pile

Here you can see examples of visual foresight fine-tuned to perform basic
control tasks in three entirely different environments. For the experiments,
the target robot and environment was subtracted from RoboNet during
pre-training. Fine-tuning was accomplished with data collected in one


Here you can see examples of visual foresight fine-tuned to perform basic
control tasks in three entirely different environments. For the experiments,
the target robot and environment was subtracted from RoboNet during
pre-training. Fine-tuning was accomplished with data collected in one


We can now numerically evaluate if our pre-train controllers can pick up skills
in new environments faster than a randomly initialized one. In each
environment, we use a standard set of benchmark tasks to compare the
performance of our pre-trained controller against the performance of a model
trained only on data from the new environment. The results show that the
fine-tuned model is ~4x more likely to complete the benchmark task than the one
trained without RoboNet. Impressively, the pre-trained models can even slightly
outperform models trained from scratch on significantly (5-20x) more data from
the test environment. This suggests that transfer from RoboNet does indeed
offer large performance gains compared to training from scratch!

We compare the performance of fine-tuned models against their counterparts
trained from scratch in two different test environments (with different robot

Clearly fine-tuning is better than training from scratch, but is training on
all of RoboNet always the best way to go? To test this, we compare pre-training
on various subsets of RoboNet versus training from scratch. As seen before, the
model pre-trained on all of RoboNet (excluding the Baxter platform) performs
substantially better than the random initialization model. However, the
“RoboNet pre-trained” model is outperformed by a model trained on a subset of
RoboNet data collected on the Sawyer robot – the single-arm variant of Baxter.

Models pre-trained on various subsets of RoboNet are compared to one trained
from scratch in an unseen (during pre-training) Baxter control environment

The similarities between the Baxter and Sawyer likely partly explain our
results, but why does simply adding data to the training set hurt performance
after fine-tuning? We theorize that this effect occurs due to model
under-fitting. In other words, RoboNet is an extremely challenging dataset for
a visual dynamics model, and imperfections in the model predictions result in
bad control performance. However, larger models with more parameters tend to be
more powerful, and thus make better predictions on RoboNet (visualized below).
Note that increasing the number of parameters greatly improves prediction
quality, but even large models with 500M parameters (middle column in the
videos below) are still quite blurry. This suggests ample room for improvement,
and we hope that the development of newer more powerful models will translate
to better control performance in the future.

We compare video prediction models of various size trained on RoboNet. A 75M
parameter model (right-most column) generates significantly blurrier
predictions than a large model with 500M parameters (center column).

Final Thoughts

This work takes the first step towards creating learned robotic agents that can
operate in a wide range of environments and across different hardware. While
our experiments primarily explore model-based reinforcement learning, we hope
that RoboNet will inspire the broader robotics and reinforcement learning
communities to investigate how to scale model-based or model-free RL
algorithms to meet the complexity and diversity of the real world.

Since the dataset is extensible, we encourage other researchers to
the data generated from their experiments back into RoboNet. After all, any
data containing robot telemetry and video could be useful to someone else, so
long as it contains the right documentation. In the long term, we believe this
process will iteratively strengthen the dataset, and thus allow our algorithms
that use it to achieve greater levels of generalization across tasks,
environments, robots, and experimental set-ups.

For more information please refer to the the project
. We’ve also open sourced our
code-base and the entire RoboNet

Finally, I would like to thank Sergey Levine, Chelsea Finn, and Frederik Ebert
for their helpful feedback on this post.

This blog post was based on the following paper:

Toronto AI is a social and collaborative hub to unite AI innovators of Toronto and surrounding areas. We explore AI technologies in digital art and music, healthcare, marketing, fintech, vr, robotics and more. Toronto AI was founded by Dave MacDonald and Patrick O'Mara.