Language-Based Augmentation to Address Shortcut Learning in Object Goal Navigation

Dennis Hoftijzer, Gertjan Burghouts, Luuk Spreeuwers

Research output: Working paperPreprintAcademic

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Deep Reinforcement Learning (DRL) has shown great potential in enabling robots to find certain objects (e.g., `find a fridge') in environments like homes or schools. This task is known as Object-Goal Navigation (ObjectNav). DRL methods are predominantly trained and evaluated using environment simulators. Although DRL has shown impressive results, the simulators may be biased or limited. This creates a risk of shortcut learning, i.e., learning a policy tailored to specific visual details of training environments. We aim to deepen our understanding of shortcut learning in ObjectNav, its implications and propose a solution. We design an experiment for inserting a shortcut bias in the appearance of training environments. As a proof-of-concept, we associate room types to specific wall colors (e.g., bedrooms with green walls), and observe poor generalization of a state-of-the-art (SOTA) ObjectNav method to environments where this is not the case (e.g., bedrooms with blue walls). We find that shortcut learning is the root cause: the agent learns to navigate to target objects, by simply searching for the associated wall color of the target object's room. To solve this, we propose Language-Based (L-B) augmentation. Our key insight is that we can leverage the multimodal feature space of a Vision-Language Model (VLM) to augment visual representations directly at the feature-level, requiring no changes to the simulator, and only an addition of one layer to the model. Where the SOTA ObjectNav method's success rate drops 69%, our proposal has only a drop of 23%.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2024


  • cs.RO
  • cs.CV


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