In this paper, we consider online planning in partially observable domains. Solving the corresponding POMDP problem is a very challenging task, particularly in an online setting. Our key contribution is a novel algorithmic approach, Simplified Information Theoretic Belief Space Planning (SITH-BSP), which aims to speed-up POMDP planning considering belief-dependent rewards, without compromising on the solution's accuracy. We do so by mathematically relating the simplified elements of the problem to the corresponding counterparts of the original problem. Specifically, we focus on belief simplification and use it to formulate bounds on the corresponding original belief-dependent rewards. These bounds in turn are used to perform branch pruning over the belief tree, in the process of calculating the optimal policy. We further introduce the notion of adaptive simplification, while re-using calculations between different simplification levels and exploit it to prune, at each level in the belief tree, all branches but one. Therefore, our approach is guaranteed to find the optimal solution of the original problem but with substantial speedup. As a second key contribution, we derive novel analytical bounds for differential entropy, considering a sampling-based belief representation, which we believe are of interest on their own. We validate our approach in simulation using these bounds and where simplification corresponds to reducing the number of samples, exhibiting a significant computational speedup while yielding the optimal solution.
Partially Observable Markov Decision Processes (POMDPs) are notoriously hard to solve. Most advanced state-of-the-art online solvers leverage ideas of Monte Carlo Tree Search (MCTS). These solvers rapidly converge to the most promising branches of the belief tree, avoiding the suboptimal sections. Most of these algorithms are designed to utilize straightforward access to the state reward and assume the belief-dependent reward is nothing but expectation over the state reward. Thus, they are inapplicable to a more general and essential setting of belief-dependent rewards. One example of such reward is differential entropy approximated using a set of weighted particles of the belief. Such an information-theoretic reward introduces a significant computational burden. In this paper, we embed the paradigm of simplification into the MCTS algorithm. In particular, we present Simplified Information-Theoretic Particle Filter Tree (SITH-PFT), a novel variant to the MCTS algorithm that considers information-theoretic rewards but avoids the need to calculate them completely. We replace the costly calculation of information-theoretic rewards with adaptive upper and lower bounds. These bounds are easy to calculate and tightened only by the demand of our algorithm. Crucially, we guarantee precisely the same belief tree and solution that would be obtained by MCTS, which explicitly calculates the original information-theoretic rewards. Our approach is general; namely, any converging to the reward bounds can be easily plugged-in to achieve substantial speedup without any loss in performance.
Partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs) offer a principled approach to control under uncertainty. However, POMDP solvers generally require rewards to depend only on the state and action. This limitation is unsuitable for information-gathering problems, where rewards are more naturally expressed as functions of belief. In this work, we consider target localization, an information-gathering task where an agent takes actions leading to informative observations and a concentrated belief over possible target locations. By leveraging recent theoretical and algorithmic advances, we investigate offline and online solvers that incorporate belief-dependent rewards. We extend SARSOP--a state-of-the-art offline solver--to handle belief-dependent rewards, exploring different reward strategies and showing how they can be compactly represented. We present an improved lower bound that greatly speeds convergence. POMDP-lite, an online solver, is also evaluated in the context of information-gathering tasks. These solvers are applied to control a hex-copter UA V searching for a radio frequency source--a challenging real-world problem.
Deciding how to act in partially observable environments remains an active area of research. Identifying good sequences of decisions is particularly challenging when good control performance requires planning multiple steps into the future in domains with many states. Towards addressing this challenge, we present an online, forward-search algorithm called the Posterior Belief Distribution (PBD). PBD leverages a novel method for calculating the posterior distribution over beliefs that result after a sequence of actions is taken, given the set of observation sequences that could be received during this process. This method allows us to efficiently evaluate the expected reward of a sequence of primitive actions, which we refer to as macro-actions. We present a formal analysis of our approach, and examine its performance on two very large simulation experiments: scientific exploration and a target monitoring domain. We also demonstrate our algorithm being used to control a real robotic helicopter in a target monitoring experiment, which suggests that our approach has practical potential for planning in real-world, large partially observable domains where a multi-step lookahead is required to achieve good performance.
Online solvers for partially observable Markov decision processes have been applied to problems with large discrete state spaces, but continuous state, action, and observation spaces remain a challenge. This paper begins by investigating double progressive widening (DPW) as a solution to this challenge. However, we prove that this modification alone is not sufficient because the belief representations in the search tree collapse to a single particle causing the algorithm to converge to a policy that is suboptimal regardless of the computation time. The main contribution of the paper is to propose a new algorithm, POMCPOW, that incorporates DPW and weighted particle filtering to overcome this deficiency and attack continuous problems. Simulation results show that these modifications allow the algorithm to be successful where previous approaches fail.