IROS2018: Approximate Distributed Spatiotemporal Topic Models for Multi-Robot Terrain Characterization.
Our paper on enabling distributed learning in bandwidth limited environments was one of the finalists
for the best paper award at IROS 2018 (6 finalists among 1,254 accepted).
Unsupervised learning techniques, such as Bayesian topic models, are capable of discovering latent structure directly from raw data. These unsupervised models can endow robots with the ability to learn from their observations without human supervision, and then use the learned models for tasks such as autonomous exploration, adaptive sampling, or surveillance. This paper extends single-robot topic models to the domain of multiple robots. The main difficulty of this extension lies in achieving and maintaining global consensus among the unsupervised models learned locally by each robot. This is especially challenging for multi-robot teams operating in communication-constrained environments, such as marine robots.
This paper presents a novel approach for multi-robot distributed learning in which each robot maintains a local topic model to categorize its observations and model parameters are shared to achieve global consensus. We apply a combinatorial optimization procedure that combines local robot topic distributions into a globally consistent model based on topic similarity, which we find mitigates topic drift when compared to a baseline approach that matches topics naively. We evaluate our methods experimentally by demonstrating multi-robot underwater terrain characterization using simulated missions on real seabed imagery. Our proposed method achieves similar model quality under bandwidth-constraints to that achieved by models that continuously communicate, despite requiring less than one percent of the data transmission needed for continuous communication.