Darin Hitchings

May 2010
Stochastic Control Approaches for Sensor Management in Search and Exploitation
Committee Members: Advisor: David Castañon, SE/ECE

Abstract: Recent improvements in the capabilities of autonomous vehicles have motivated their increased use in such applications as defense, homeland security, environmental monitoring, and surveillance. To enhance performance in these applications, new algorithms are required to control teams of robots autonomously and through limited interactions with human operators. In this dissertation we develop new algorithms for control of robots performing information-seeking missions in unknown environments. These missions require robots to control their sensors in order to discover the presence of objects, keep track of the objects, and learn what these objects are, given a fixed sensing budget.

Initially, we investigate control of multiple sensors, with a finite set of sensing options and finite-valued measurements, to locate and classify objects given a limited resource budget. The control problem is formulated as a Partially Observed Markov Decision Problem (POMDP), but its exact solution requires excessive computation. Under the assumption that sensor error statistics are independent and time-invariant, we develop a class of algorithms using Lagrangian Relaxation techniques to obtain optimal mixed strategies using performance bounds developed in previous research. We investigate alternative Receding Horizon (RH) controllers to convert the mixed strategies to feasible adaptive-sensing strategies and evaluate the relative performance of these controllers in simulation. The resulting controllers provide superior performance to alternative algorithms proposed in the literature and obtain solutions to large-scale POMDP problems several orders of magnitude faster than optimal Dynamic Programming (DP) approaches with comparable performance quality.

We extend our results for finite action, finite measurement sensor control to scenarios with moving objects. We use Hidden Markov Models (HMMs) for the evolution of objects, according to the dynamics of a birth-death process. We develop a new lower bound on the performance of adaptive controllers in these scenarios, develop algorithms for computing solutions to this lower bound, and use these algorithms as part of a RH controller for sensor allocation in the presence of moving objects

We also consider an adaptive Search problem where sensing actions are continuous and the underlying measurement space is also continuous. We extend our previous hierarchical decomposition approach based on performance bounds to this problem and develop novel implementations of Stochastic Dynamic Programming (SDP) techniques to solve this problem. Our algorithms are nearly two orders of magnitude faster than previously proposed approaches and yield solutions of comparable quality.

For supervisory control, we discuss how human operators can work with and augment robotic teams performing these tasks. Our focus is on how tasks are partitioned among teams of robots and how a human operator can make intelligent decisions for task partitioning. We explore these questions through the design of a game that involves robot automata controlled by our algorithms and a human supervisor that partitions tasks based on different levels of support information. This game can be used with human subject experiments to explore the effect of information on quality of supervisory control.