Toward robust and scalable deep spiking reinforcement learning

Mahmoud Akl, Deniz Ergene, Florian Walter, Alois Knoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Deep reinforcement learning (DRL) combines reinforcement learning algorithms with deep neural networks (DNNs). Spiking neural networks (SNNs) have been shown to be a biologically plausible and energy efficient alternative to DNNs. Since the introduction of surrogate gradient approaches that allowed to overcome the discontinuity in the spike function, SNNs can now be trained with the backpropagation through time (BPTT) algorithm. While largely explored on supervised learning problems, little work has been done on investigating the use of SNNs as function approximators in DRL. Here we show how SNNs can be applied to different DRL algorithms like Deep Q-Network (DQN) and Twin-Delayed Deep Deteministic Policy Gradient (TD3) for discrete and continuous action space environments, respectively. We found that SNNs are sensitive to the additional hyperparameters introduced by spiking neuron models like current and voltage decay factors, firing thresholds, and that extensive hyperparameter tuning is inevitable. However, we show that increasing the simulation time of SNNs, as well as applying a two-neuron encoding to the input observations helps reduce the sensitivity to the membrane parameters. Furthermore, we show that randomizing the membrane parameters, instead of selecting uniform values for all neurons, has stabilizing effects on the training. We conclude that SNNs can be utilized for learning complex continuous control problems with state-of-the-art DRL algorithms. While the training complexity increases, the resulting SNNs can be directly executed on neuromorphic processors and potentially benefit from their high energy efficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1075647
JournalFrontiers in Neurorobotics
StatePublished - 20 Jan 2023


  • continuous control
  • deep reinforcement learning (Deep RL)
  • hyperparameter tuning
  • reinforcement learning
  • spiking neural network (SNN)


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