Collaborating Authors


Semantic Sensing and Planning for Human-Robot Collaboration in Uncertain Environments Artificial Intelligence

Autonomous robots can benefit greatly from human-provided semantic characterizations of uncertain task environments and states. However, the development of integrated strategies which let robots model, communicate, and act on such soft data remains challenging. Here, a framework is presented for active semantic sensing and planning in human-robot teams which addresses these gaps by formally combining the benefits of online sampling-based POMDP policies, multi-modal semantic interaction, and Bayesian data fusion. This approach lets humans opportunistically impose model structure and extend the range of semantic soft data in uncertain environments by sketching and labeling arbitrary landmarks across the environment. Dynamic updating of the environment while searching for a mobile target allows robotic agents to actively query humans for novel and relevant semantic data, thereby improving beliefs of unknown environments and target states for improved online planning. Target search simulations show significant improvements in time and belief state estimates required for interception versus conventional planning based solely on robotic sensing. Human subject studies demonstrate a average doubling in dynamic target capture rate compared to the lone robot case, employing reasoning over a range of user characteristics and interaction modalities. Video of interaction can be found at

Goal Agnostic Planning using Maximum Likelihood Paths in Hypergraph World Models Artificial Intelligence

In this paper, we present a hypergraph--based machine learning algorithm, a datastructure--driven maintenance method, and a planning algorithm based on a probabilistic application of Dijkstra's algorithm. Together, these form a goal agnostic automated planning engine for an autonomous learning agent which incorporates beneficial properties of both classical Machine Learning and traditional Artificial Intelligence. We prove that the algorithm determines optimal solutions within the problem space, mathematically bound learning performance, and supply a mathematical model analyzing system state progression through time yielding explicit predictions for learning curves, goal achievement rates, and response to abstractions and uncertainty. To validate performance, we exhibit results from applying the agent to three archetypal planning problems, including composite hierarchical domains, and highlight empirical findings which illustrate properties elucidated in the analysis.

Optimal Path Planning of Autonomous Marine Vehicles in Stochastic Dynamic Ocean Flows using a GPU-Accelerated Algorithm Artificial Intelligence

Autonomous marine vehicles play an essential role in many ocean science and engineering applications. Planning time and energy optimal paths for these vehicles to navigate in stochastic dynamic ocean environments is essential to reduce operational costs. In some missions, they must also harvest solar, wind, or wave energy (modeled as a stochastic scalar field) and move in optimal paths that minimize net energy consumption. Markov Decision Processes (MDPs) provide a natural framework for sequential decision-making for robotic agents in such environments. However, building a realistic model and solving the modeled MDP becomes computationally expensive in large-scale real-time applications, warranting the need for parallel algorithms and efficient implementation. In the present work, we introduce an efficient end-to-end GPU-accelerated algorithm that (i) builds the MDP model (computing transition probabilities and expected one-step rewards); and (ii) solves the MDP to compute an optimal policy. We develop methodical and algorithmic solutions to overcome the limited global memory of GPUs by (i) using a dynamic reduced-order representation of the ocean flows, (ii) leveraging the sparse nature of the state transition probability matrix, (iii) introducing a neighbouring sub-grid concept and (iv) proving that it is sufficient to use only the stochastic scalar field's mean to compute the expected one-step rewards for missions involving energy harvesting from the environment; thereby saving memory and reducing the computational effort. We demonstrate the algorithm on a simulated stochastic dynamic environment and highlight that it builds the MDP model and computes the optimal policy 600-1000x faster than conventional CPU implementations, making it suitable for real-time use.

Learning off-road maneuver plans for autonomous vehicles Artificial Intelligence

This thesis explores the benefits machine learning algorithms can bring to online planning and scheduling for autonomous vehicles in off-road situations. Mainly, we focus on typical problems of interest which include computing itineraries that meet certain objectives, as well as computing scheduling strategies to execute synchronized maneuvers with other vehicles. We present a range of learning-based heuristics to assist different itinerary planners. We show that these heuristics allow a significant increase in performance for optimal planners. Furthermore, in the case of approximate planning, we show that not only does the running time decrease, the quality of the itinerary found also becomes almost always better. Finally, in order to synthesize strategies to execute synchronized maneuvers, we propose a novel type of scheduling controllability and a learning-assisted algorithm. The proposed framework achieves significant improvement on known benchmarks in this controllability type over the performance of state-of-the-art works in a related controllability type. Moreover, it is able to find strategies on complex scheduling problems for which previous works fail to do so.

On the Importance of Environments in Human-Robot Coordination Artificial Intelligence

When studying robots collaborating with humans, much of the focus has been on robot policies that coordinate fluently with human teammates in collaborative tasks. However, less emphasis has been placed on the effect of the environment on coordination behaviors. To thoroughly explore environments that result in diverse behaviors, we propose a framework for procedural generation of environments that are (1) stylistically similar to human-authored environments, (2) guaranteed to be solvable by the human-robot team, and (3) diverse with respect to coordination measures. We analyze the procedurally generated environments in the Overcooked benchmark domain via simulation and an online user study. Results show that the environments result in qualitatively different emerging behaviors and statistically significant differences in collaborative fluency metrics, even when the robot runs the same planning algorithm.

Explainable Autonomous Robots: A Survey and Perspective Artificial Intelligence

It is commonly claimed that AI will replace most manual labor in the future; however, is this really the case? AI technologies do have higher image recognition accuracy compared to humans in some limited contexts, and have consistently outperformed humans in classical games such as Go and chess. Nonetheless, we believe that even advanced future developments based on current technology will not lead to robots replacing humans. AI systems' fundamental lack of ability to communicate naturally and effectively with humans is among the most significant reasons that they cannot replace human labor. Here, one may believe that such communication could be achieved via the development of natural language processing (NLP) technology [4]; however, NLP technologies are systems for estimating the content of human statements and their meanings; they do not constitute communication. That is, humans do not feel that robots using such systems truly understand and respond to them appropriately. Therefore, if effective communication is not achieved, robots will continue to function only as tools to assist humans. Advancements improving the accuracy or effectiveness of various specific tasks do not indicate that robots are equivalent to human beings. Under this scenario, how can we enable robots to communicate with humans?

Rule-based Shielding for Partially Observable Monte-Carlo Planning Artificial Intelligence

Partially Observable Monte-Carlo Planning (POMCP) is a powerful online algorithm able to generate approximate policies for large Partially Observable Markov Decision Processes. The online nature of this method supports scalability by avoiding complete policy representation. The lack of an explicit representation however hinders policy interpretability and makes policy verification very complex. In this work, we propose two contributions. The first is a method for identifying unexpected actions selected by POMCP with respect to expert prior knowledge of the task. The second is a shielding approach that prevents POMCP from selecting unexpected actions. The first method is based on Satisfiability Modulo Theory (SMT). It inspects traces (i.e., sequences of belief-action-observation triplets) generated by POMCP to compute the parameters of logical formulas about policy properties defined by the expert. The second contribution is a module that uses online the logical formulas to identify anomalous actions selected by POMCP and substitutes those actions with actions that satisfy the logical formulas fulfilling expert knowledge. We evaluate our approach on Tiger, a standard benchmark for POMDPs, and a real-world problem related to velocity regulation in mobile robot navigation. Results show that the shielded POMCP outperforms the standard POMCP in a case study in which a wrong parameter of POMCP makes it select wrong actions from time to time. Moreover, we show that the approach keeps good performance also if the parameters of the logical formula are optimized using trajectories containing some wrong actions.

Informative Path Planning for Extreme Anomaly Detection in Environment Exploration and Monitoring Machine Learning

This includes missions related to environment exploration and monitoring in which an UAV is tasked with producing a map for a quantity of interest (e.g., pollutant concentration, terrain elevation, or vegetation growth) by collecting measurements at various locations across a region of interest (e.g., a reservoir, a city, or a crop) [10, 13, 17, 23, 40]. The data collected by the UAV can be used to construct a statistical model for the quantity of interest, which in turn can be used for analysis and policy making. Of course, the statistical model is only as good as the measurements made by the UAV. Therefore, the question of data collection (i.e., how, when, and where to make measurements) is of paramount importance, especially from the standpoint of detecting anomalies in the environment. Path-planning algorithms for environment exploration come in two flavors. Approaches in which the UAV decides on its next move one step at a time are referred to as myopic [24, 42]. Myopic algorithms are suitable for most situations but lack a mechanism for anticipation, which may be problematic in cases where path-planning decisions may have negative longterm consequences (e.g., the UAV gets stuck because of maneuverability constraints).

Active Tree Search in Large POMDPs Artificial Intelligence

Model-based planning and prospection are widely studied in both cognitive neuroscience and artificial intelligence (AI), but from different perspectives - and with different desiderata in mind (biological realism versus scalability) that are difficult to reconcile. Here, we introduce a novel method to plan in large POMDPs - Active Tree Search - that combines the normative character and biological realism of a leading planning theory in neuroscience (Active Inference) and the scalability of Monte-Carlo methods in AI. This unification is beneficial for both approaches. On the one hand, using Monte-Carlo planning permits scaling up the biologically grounded approach of Active Inference to large-scale problems. On the other hand, the theory of Active Inference provides a principled solution to the balance of exploration and exploitation, which is often addressed heuristically in Monte-Carlo methods. Our simulations show that Active Tree Search successfully navigates binary trees that are challenging for sampling-based methods, problems that require adaptive exploration, and the large POMDP problem Rocksample. Furthermore, we illustrate how Active Tree Search can be used to simulate neurophysiological responses (e.g., in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex) of humans and other animals that contain large planning problems. These simulations show that Active Tree Search is a principled realisation of neuroscientific and AI theories of planning, which offers both biological realism and scalability.

NeBula: Quest for Robotic Autonomy in Challenging Environments; TEAM CoSTAR at the DARPA Subterranean Challenge Artificial Intelligence

This paper presents and discusses algorithms, hardware, and software architecture developed by the TEAM CoSTAR (Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Robots), competing in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge. Specifically, it presents the techniques utilized within the Tunnel (2019) and Urban (2020) competitions, where CoSTAR achieved 2nd and 1st place, respectively. We also discuss CoSTAR's demonstrations in Martian-analog surface and subsurface (lava tubes) exploration. The paper introduces our autonomy solution, referred to as NeBula (Networked Belief-aware Perceptual Autonomy). NeBula is an uncertainty-aware framework that aims at enabling resilient and modular autonomy solutions by performing reasoning and decision making in the belief space (space of probability distributions over the robot and world states). We discuss various components of the NeBula framework, including: (i) geometric and semantic environment mapping; (ii) a multi-modal positioning system; (iii) traversability analysis and local planning; (iv) global motion planning and exploration behavior; (i) risk-aware mission planning; (vi) networking and decentralized reasoning; and (vii) learning-enabled adaptation. We discuss the performance of NeBula on several robot types (e.g. wheeled, legged, flying), in various environments. We discuss the specific results and lessons learned from fielding this solution in the challenging courses of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge competition.