On the Effects of Pruning on Evolved Neural Controllers for Soft Robots
Giorgia Nadizar, , Felice Andrea Pellegrino, Marco Zullich, Stefano Nichele
Workshop on Neuroevolution at Work (NEWK@GECCO)
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Artificial neural networks (ANNs) are commonly used for controlling robotic agents. For robots with many sensors and actuators, ANNs can be very complex, with many neurons and connections. Removal of neurons or connections, i.e., pruning, may be desirable because (i) it reduces the complexity of the ANN, making its operation more energy efficient, and (ii) it might improve the generalization ability of the ANN. Whether these goals can actually be achieved in practice is however still not well known. On the other hand, it is widely recognized that pruning in biological neural networks plays a fundamental role in the development of brains and their ability to learn. In this work, we consider the case of Voxel-based Soft Robots, a kind of robots where sensors and actuators are distributed over the body and that can be controlled with ANNs optimized by means of neuroevolution. We experimentally characterize the effect of different forms of pruning on the effectiveness of neuroevolution, also in terms of generalization ability of the evolved ANNs. We find that, with some forms of pruning, a large portion of the connections can be pruned without strongly affecting robot capabilities. We also observe sporadic improvements in generalization ability.
Comparison of pruned and non-pruned versions: