Benjamin Ayton, Ph.D., 2022
Brian Williams, Co-Advisor
Richard Camilli, Co-Advisor
Automated information gathering allows exploration of environments where data is limited and gathering observations introduces risk, such as underwater and planetary exploration. Typically, exploration has been performed in service of a query, with a unique algorithm developed for each mission. Yet this approach does not allow scientists to respond to novel questions as they are raised. In this thesis, we develop a single approach for a broad range of adaptive sampling missions with risk and limited prior knowledge. To achieve this, we present contributions in planning adaptive missions in service of queries, and modeling multi-attribute environments.
First, we define a query language suitable for specifying diverse goals in adaptive sampling. The language fully encompasses objectives from previous adaptive sampling approaches, and significantly extends the possible range of objectives. We prove that queries expressible in this language are not biased in a way that avoids information. We then describe a Monte Carlo tree search approach to plan for all queries in our language, using sample based objective estimators embedded within tree search. This approach outperforms methods that maximize information about all variables in hydrocarbon seep search and fire escape scenarios. Next, we show how to plan when the policy must bound risk as a function of reward. By solving approximating problems, we guarantee risk bounds on policies with large numbers of actions and continuous observations, ensuring that risks are only taken when justified by reward.
Exploration is limited by the quality of the environment model, so we introduce Gaussian process models with directed acyclic structure to improve model accuracy under limited data. The addition of interpretable structure allows qualitative expert knowledge of the environment to be encoded through structure and parameter constraints. Since expert knowledge may be incomplete, we introduce efficient structure learning over structural models using A* search with bounding conflicts. By placing bounds on likelihood of substructures, we limit the number of structures that are trained, significantly accelerating search. Experiments modeling geographic data show that our model produces more accurate predictions than existing Gaussian process methods, and using bounds allows structure to be learned in 50% of the time.