Submodular Optimization in Multi-Robot Teams: Robustness, Resilience, and Decentralization

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Virginia Tech


Decision-making is an essential topic for multi-robot coordination and collaboration and is also the main topic of this thesis. Examples can be found in autonomous driving, environmental monitoring, intelligent transportation, etc. To study this problem, we first use multiple applications as motivating examples and then construct the general formulation and solution for those applications. Finally, we extend our investigation from the fundamental problem formulation to resilient and decentralized versions. All those problems are studied in the combinatorial optimization domain with the help of submodular and matroid optimization techniques.

As a motivating example, we use a multi-robot environmental monitoring problem to extract the general formulation of a multi-robot decision-making problem. Consider the problem of deploying multi-agent teams for environmental monitoring in a precision farming application. We want to answer the question of when and where to deploy our robots. This is a typical task allocation problem in multi-robot systems. Using the above problem as an example, we first focus on this decision-making problem, e.g., intermittent deployment problem, in a centralized scenario. Given a predictable agriculture environment, we want to make decisions for robots for this monitoring task. The problem is formulated as a combinatorial submodular optimization with matroid constraints. By utilizing the properties of submodularity, we aim to develop a solution with performance guarantees. This motivating example demonstrates how to use a submodular function and matroids to model and solve decision-making problems in multi-robot systems. Based on this framework, we continue to explore the fundamental decision-making problem in several other directions in multi-robot systems, including the robust decision-making problem. All those problems and solutions are formulated and considered in a centralized scenario.

In the second part of this thesis, we switch our focus from centralized to decentralized scenarios. We first investigate a case where the robots in a distributed multi-robot system need to work together to guard the system against worst-case attacks while making decisions. By worst-case attacks, we refer to the case where the system may have up to K sensor failures. To increase resilience, we propose a fully distributed algorithm to guide each robot's action selection when the system is attacked. The proposed algorithm guarantees performance in a worst-case scenario where up to a portion of the robots malfunction due to attacks. Based on this specific task allocation problem in robotics, we then create a unified framework for a more general case in a decentralized scenario, e.g., asynchronous decentralized decision-making problems with matroid and knapsack constraints. Finally, several applications in decentralized scenarios are used to validate the theoretical guaranteed performance in robotics.



Multi-robot systems, submodular optimization, decision-making, task allocation, robustness, resilience, decentralization