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Get started with Environments, TED and transforms

Author: Vincent Moens

Note

To run this tutorial in a notebook, add an installation cell at the beginning containing:

!pip install tensordict
!pip install torchrl

Welcome to the getting started tutorials!

Below is the list of the topics we will be covering.

If you are in a hurry, you can jump straight away to the last tutorial, Your own first training loop, from where you can backtrack every other “Getting Started” tutorial if things are not clear or if you want to learn more about a specific topic!

Environments in RL

The standard RL (Reinforcement Learning) training loop involves a model, also known as a policy, which is trained to accomplish a task within a specific environment. Often, this environment is a simulator that accepts actions as input and produces an observation along with some metadata as output.

In this document, we will explore the environment API of TorchRL: we will learn how to create an environment, interact with it, and understand the data format it uses.

Creating an environment

In essence, TorchRL does not directly provide environments, but instead offers wrappers for other libraries that encapsulate the simulators. The envs module can be viewed as a provider for a generic environment API, as well as a central hub for simulation backends like gym (GymEnv), Brax (BraxEnv) or DeepMind Control Suite (DMControlEnv).

Creating your environment is typically as straightforward as the underlying backend API allows. Here’s an example using gym:

from torchrl.envs import GymEnv

env = GymEnv("Pendulum-v1")
/pytorch/rl/torchrl/envs/common.py:2989: DeprecationWarning: Your wrapper was not given a device. Currently, this value will default to 'cpu'. From v0.5 it will default to `None`. With a device of None, no device casting is performed and the resulting tensordicts are deviceless. Please set your device accordingly.
  warnings.warn(

Running an environment

Environments in TorchRL have two crucial methods: reset(), which initiates an episode, and step(), which executes an action selected by the actor. In TorchRL, environment methods read and write TensorDict instances. Essentially, TensorDict is a generic key-based data carrier for tensors. The benefit of using TensorDict over plain tensors is that it enables us to handle simple and complex data structures interchangeably. As our function signatures are very generic, it eliminates the challenge of accommodating different data formats. In simpler terms, after this brief tutorial, you will be capable of operating on both simple and highly complex environments, as their user-facing API is identical and simple!

Let’s put the environment into action and see what a tensordict instance looks like:

reset = env.reset()
print(reset)
TensorDict(
    fields={
        done: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        observation: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([3]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
        terminated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        truncated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False)},
    batch_size=torch.Size([]),
    device=cpu,
    is_shared=False)

Now let’s take a random action in the action space. First, sample the action:

reset_with_action = env.rand_action(reset)
print(reset_with_action)
TensorDict(
    fields={
        action: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
        done: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        observation: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([3]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
        terminated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        truncated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False)},
    batch_size=torch.Size([]),
    device=cpu,
    is_shared=False)

This tensordict has the same structure as the one obtained from EnvBase() with an additional "action" entry. You can access the action easily, like you would do with a regular dictionary:

print(reset_with_action["action"])
tensor([-1.1254])

We now need to pass this action tp the environment. We’ll be passing the entire tensordict to the step method, since there might be more than one tensor to be read in more advanced cases like Multi-Agent RL or stateless environments:

TensorDict(
    fields={
        action: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
        done: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        next: TensorDict(
            fields={
                done: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
                observation: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([3]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
                reward: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
                terminated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
                truncated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False)},
            batch_size=torch.Size([]),
            device=cpu,
            is_shared=False),
        observation: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([3]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
        terminated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        truncated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False)},
    batch_size=torch.Size([]),
    device=cpu,
    is_shared=False)

Again, this new tensordict is identical to the previous one except for the fact that it has a "next" entry (itself a tensordict!) containing the observation, reward and done state resulting from our action.

We call this format TED, for TorchRL Episode Data format. It is the ubiquitous way of representing data in the library, both dynamically like here, or statically with offline datasets.

The last bit of information you need to run a rollout in the environment is how to bring that "next" entry at the root to perform the next step. TorchRL provides a dedicated step_mdp() function that does just that: it filters out the information you won’t need and delivers a data structure corresponding to your observation after a step in the Markov Decision Process, or MDP.

from torchrl.envs import step_mdp

data = step_mdp(stepped_data)
print(data)
TensorDict(
    fields={
        done: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        observation: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([3]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
        terminated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        truncated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False)},
    batch_size=torch.Size([]),
    device=cpu,
    is_shared=False)

Environment rollouts

Writing down those three steps (computing an action, making a step, moving in the MDP) can be a bit tedious and repetitive. Fortunately, TorchRL provides a nice rollout() function that allows you to run them in a closed loop at will:

rollout = env.rollout(max_steps=10)
print(rollout)
TensorDict(
    fields={
        action: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
        done: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        next: TensorDict(
            fields={
                done: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
                observation: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 3]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
                reward: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
                terminated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
                truncated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False)},
            batch_size=torch.Size([10]),
            device=cpu,
            is_shared=False),
        observation: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 3]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
        terminated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        truncated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False)},
    batch_size=torch.Size([10]),
    device=cpu,
    is_shared=False)

This data looks pretty much like the stepped_data above with the exception of its batch-size, which now equates the number of steps we provided through the max_steps argument. The magic of tensordict doesn’t end there: if you’re interested in a single transition of this environment, you can index the tensordict like you would index a tensor:

TensorDict(
    fields={
        action: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
        done: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        next: TensorDict(
            fields={
                done: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
                observation: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([3]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
                reward: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
                terminated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
                truncated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False)},
            batch_size=torch.Size([]),
            device=cpu,
            is_shared=False),
        observation: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([3]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
        terminated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        truncated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False)},
    batch_size=torch.Size([]),
    device=cpu,
    is_shared=False)

TensorDict will automatically check if the index you provided is a key (in which case we index along the key-dimension) or a spatial index like here.

Executed as such (without a policy), the rollout method may seem rather useless: it just runs random actions. If a policy is available, it can be passed to the method and used to collect data.

Nevertheless, it can useful to run a naive, policyless rollout at first to check what is to be expected from an environment at a glance.

To appreciate the versatility of TorchRL’s API, consider the fact that the rollout method is universally applicable. It functions across all use cases, whether you’re working with a single environment like this one, multiple copies across various processes, a multi-agent environment, or even a stateless version of it!

Transforming an environment

Most of the time, you’ll want to modify the output of the environment to better suit your requirements. For example, you might want to monitor the number of steps executed since the last reset, resize images, or stack consecutive observations together.

In this section, we’ll examine a simple transform, the StepCounter transform. The complete list of transforms can be found here.

The transform is integrated with the environment through a TransformedEnv:

from torchrl.envs import StepCounter, TransformedEnv

transformed_env = TransformedEnv(env, StepCounter(max_steps=10))
rollout = transformed_env.rollout(max_steps=100)
print(rollout)
TensorDict(
    fields={
        action: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
        done: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        next: TensorDict(
            fields={
                done: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
                observation: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 3]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
                reward: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
                step_count: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.int64, is_shared=False),
                terminated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
                truncated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False)},
            batch_size=torch.Size([10]),
            device=cpu,
            is_shared=False),
        observation: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 3]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.float32, is_shared=False),
        step_count: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.int64, is_shared=False),
        terminated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False),
        truncated: Tensor(shape=torch.Size([10, 1]), device=cpu, dtype=torch.bool, is_shared=False)},
    batch_size=torch.Size([10]),
    device=cpu,
    is_shared=False)

As you can see, our environment now has one more entry, "step_count" that tracks the number of steps since the last reset. Given that we passed the optional argument max_steps=10 to the transform constructor, we also truncated the trajectory after 10 steps (not completing a full rollout of 100 steps like we asked with the rollout call). We can see that the trajectory was truncated by looking at the truncated entry:

print(rollout["next", "truncated"])
tensor([[False],
        [False],
        [False],
        [False],
        [False],
        [False],
        [False],
        [False],
        [False],
        [ True]])

This is all for this short introduction to TorchRL’s environment API!

Next steps

To explore further what TorchRL’s environments can do, go and check:

  • The step_and_maybe_reset() method that packs together step(), step_mdp() and reset().

  • Some environments like GymEnv support rendering through the from_pixels argument. Check the class docstrings to know more!

  • The batched environments, in particular ParallelEnv which allows you to run multiple copies of one same (or different!) environments on multiple processes.

  • Design your own environment with the Pendulum tutorial and learn about specs and stateless environments.

  • See the more in-depth tutorial about environments in the dedicated tutorial;

  • Check the multi-agent environment API if you’re interested in MARL;

  • TorchRL has many tools to interact with the Gym API such as a way to register TorchRL envs in the Gym register through register_gym(), an API to read the info dictionaries through set_info_dict_reader() or a way to control the gym backend thanks to set_gym_backend().

Total running time of the script: (0 minutes 43.314 seconds)

Estimated memory usage: 9 MB

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