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Exploiting Submodular Value Functions for Scaling Up Active Perception

Yash Satsangi‚ Shimon Whiteson‚ Frans Oliehoek and Matthijs Spaan


In active perception tasks, an agent aims to select sensory actions that reduce its uncertainty about one or more hidden variables. For example, a mobile robot takes sensory actions to efficiently navigate in a new environment. While partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs) provide a natural model for such problems, reward functions that directly penalize uncertainty in the agent's belief can remove the piecewise-linear and convex (PWLC) property of the value function required by most POMDP planners. Furthermore, as the number of sensors available to the agent grows, the computational cost of POMDP planning grows exponentially with it, making POMDP planning infeasible with traditional methods. In this article, we address a twofold challenge of modeling and planning for active perception tasks. We analyze ρPOMDP and POMDP-IR, two frameworks for modeling active perception tasks, that restore the PWLC property of the value function. We show the mathematical equivalence of these two frameworks by showing that given a ρPOMDP along with a policy, they can be reduced to a POMDP-IR and an equivalent policy (and vice-versa). We prove that the value function for the given ρPOMDP (and the given policy) and the reduced POMDP-IR (and the reduced policy) is the same. To efficiently plan for active perception tasks, we identify and exploit the independence properties of POMDP-IR to reduce the computational cost of solving POMDP-IR (and ρPOMDP). We propose greedy point-based value iteration (PBVI), a new POMDP planning method that uses greedy maximization to greatly improve scalability in the action space of an active perception POMDP. Furthermore, we show that, under certain conditions, including submodularity, the value function computed using greedy PBVI is guaranteed to have bounded error with respect to the optimal value function. We establish the conditions under which the value function of an active perception POMDP is guaranteed to be submodular. Finally, we present a detailed empirical analysis on a dataset collected from a multi-camera tracking system employed in a shopping mall. Our method achieves similar performance to existing methods but at a fraction of the computational cost leading to better scalability for solving active perception tasks.

Autonomous Robots
To appear.