Parsimonious, Risk-Aware, and Resilient Multi-Robot Coordination

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Virginia Tech

In this dissertation, we study multi-robot coordination in the context of multi-target tracking. Specifically, we are interested in the coordination achieved by means of submodular function optimization. Submodularity encodes the diminishing returns property that arises in multi-robot coordination. For example, the marginal gain of assigning an additional robot to track the same target diminishes as the number of robots assigned increases. The advantage of formulating coordination problems as submodular optimization is that a simple, greedy algorithm is guaranteed to give a good performance. However, often this comes at the expense of unrealistic models and assumptions. For example, the standard formulation does not take into account the fact that robots may fail, either randomly or due to adversarial attacks. When operating in uncertain conditions, we typically seek to optimize the expected performance. However, this does not give any flexibility for a user to seek conservative or aggressive behaviors from the team of robots. Furthermore, most coordination algorithms force robots to communicate at each time step, even though they may not need to. Our goal in this dissertation is to overcome these limitations by devising coordination algorithms that are parsimonious in communication, allow a user to manage the risk of the robot performance, and are resilient to worst-case robot failures and attacks.

In the first part of this dissertation, we focus on designing parsimonious communication strategies for target tracking. Specifically, we investigate the problem of determining when to communicate and who to communicate with. When the robots use range sensors, the tracking performance is a function of the relative positions of the robots and the targets. We propose a self-triggered communication strategy in which a robot communicates its own position with its neighbors only when a certain set of conditions are violated. We prove that this strategy converges to the optimal robot positions for tracking a single target and in practice, reduces the number of communication messages by 30%. When tracking multiple targets, we can reduce the communication by forming subsets of robots and assigning one subset to track a target. We investigate a number of measures for tracking quality based on the observability matrix and show which ones are submodular and which ones are not. For non-submodular measures, we show a greedy algorithm gives a 1/(n+1) approximation, if we restrict the subset to n robots.

In optimizing submodular functions, a common assumption is that the function value is deterministic, which may not hold in practice. For example, the sensor performance may depend on environmental conditions which are not known exactly. In the second part of the dissertation, we design an algorithm for stochastic submodular optimization. The standard formulation for stochastic optimization optimizes the expected performance. However, the expectation is a risk-neutral measure. Instead, we optimize the Conditional Value-at-Risk (CVaR), which allows the user the flexibility of choosing a risk level. We present an algorithm, based on the greedy algorithm, and prove that its performance has bounded suboptimality and improves with running time. We also present an online version of the algorithm to adapt to real-time scenarios.

In the third part of this dissertation, we focus on scenarios where a set of robots may fail naturally or due to adversarial attacks. Our objective is to track as many targets as possible, a submodular measure, assuming worst-case robot failures. We present both centralized and distributed resilient tracking algorithms to cope with centralized and distributed communication settings. We prove these algorithms give a constant-factor approximation of the optimal in polynomial running time.

Multi-Robot Systems, Resilient and Risk-aware Submodular Maximization, Planning and Assignment Algorithms, Event-Triggered Control