Models of brain based on artificial neural networks

James C.R. Whittington, Rafal Bogacz, Theories of Error Back-Propagation in the Brain, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 23, Issue 3, 2019, Pages 235-250 DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2018.12.005.

This review article summarises recently proposed theories on how neural circuits in the brain could approximate the error back-propagation algorithm used by artificial neural networks. Computational models implementing these theories achieve learning as efficient as artificial neural networks, but they use simple synaptic plasticity rules based on activity of presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons. The models have similarities, such as including both feedforward and feedback connections, allowing information about error to propagate throughout the network. Furthermore, they incorporate experimental evidence on neural connectivity, responses, and plasticity. These models provide insights on how brain networks might be organised such that modification of synaptic weights on multiple levels of cortical hierarchy leads to improved performance on tasks.

Model-based RL for controling a soft manipulator arm

T. G. Thuruthel, E. Falotico, F. Renda and C. Laschi, Model-Based Reinforcement Learning for Closed-Loop Dynamic Control of Soft Robotic Manipulators, IEEE Transactions on Robotics, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 124-134, Feb. 2019. DOI: 10.1109/TRO.2018.2878318.

Dynamic control of soft robotic manipulators is an open problem yet to be well explored and analyzed. Most of the current applications of soft robotic manipulators utilize static or quasi-dynamic controllers based on kinematic models or linearity in the joint space. However, such approaches are not truly exploiting the rich dynamics of a soft-bodied system. In this paper, we present a model-based policy learning algorithm for closed-loop predictive control of a soft robotic manipulator. The forward dynamic model is represented using a recurrent neural network. The closed-loop policy is derived using trajectory optimization and supervised learning. The approach is verified first on a simulated piecewise constant strain model of a cable driven under-actuated soft manipulator. Furthermore, we experimentally demonstrate on a soft pneumatically actuated manipulator how closed-loop control policies can be derived that can accommodate variable frequency control and unmodeled external loads.

Selecting the best visual cues in the next future for reducing the computational cost of localization under limited computational resources

L. Carlone and S. Karaman, Attention and Anticipation in Fast Visual-Inertial Navigation, IEEE Transactions on Robotics, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 1-20, Feb. 2019 DOI: 10.1109/TRO.2018.2872402.

We study a visual-inertial navigation (VIN) problem in which a robot needs to estimate its state using an on-board camera and an inertial sensor, without any prior knowledge of the external environment. We consider the case in which the robot can allocate limited resources to VIN, due to tight computational constraints. Therefore, we answer the following question: under limited resources, what are the most relevant visual cues to maximize the performance of VIN? Our approach has four key ingredients. First, it is task-driven, in that the selection of the visual cues is guided by a metric quantifying the VIN performance. Second, it exploits the notion of anticipation, since it uses a simplified model for forward-simulation of robot dynamics, predicting the utility of a set of visual cues over a future time horizon. Third, it is efficient and easy to implement, since it leads to a greedy algorithm for the selection of the most relevant visual cues. Fourth, it provides formal performance guarantees: we leverage submodularity to prove that the greedy selection cannot be far from the optimal (combinatorial) selection. Simulations and real experiments on agile drones show that our approach ensures state-of-the-art VIN performance while maintaining a lean processing time. In the easy scenarios, our approach outperforms appearance-based feature selection in terms of localization errors. In the most challenging scenarios, it enables accurate VIN while appearance-based feature selection fails to track robot’s motion during aggressive maneuvers.

An application of MDPs to UAV collision-free navigation with an interesting taxonomy of the state-of-the-art

Xiang Yu1, Xiaobin Zhou2, Youmin Zhang, Collision-Free Trajectory Generation and Tracking for UAVs Using Markov Decision Process in a Cluttered Environment, Journal of Intelligent & Robotic Systems, 2019, 93:17–32 DOI: 10.1007/s10846-018-0802-z.

A collision-free trajectory generation and tracking method capable of re-planning unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) trajectories can increase flight safety and decrease the possibility of mission failures. In this paper, a Markov decision process (MDP) based algorithm combined with backtracking method is presented to create a safe trajectory in the case of hostile environments. Subsequently, a differential flatness method is adopted to smooth the profile of the rerouted trajectory for satisfying the UAV physical constraints. Lastly, a flight controller based on passivity-based control (PBC) is designed to maintain UAV’s stability and trajectory tracking performance. simulation results demonstrate that the UAV with the proposed strategy is capable of avoiding obstacles in a hostile environment.

Interesting mathematical study of the properties of graphs for graph-based SLAM and other graph-based estimation problems

Khosoussi, K., Giamou, M., Sukhatme, G. S., Huang, S., Dissanayake, G., & How, J. P., Reliable Graphs for SLAM, The International Journal of Robotics Research, 2019, DOI: 10.1177/0278364918823086.

Estimation-over-graphs (EoG) is a class of estimation problems that admit a natural graphical representation. Several key problems in robotics and sensor networks, including sensor network localization, synchronization over a group, and simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) fall into this category. We pursue two main goals in this work. First, we aim to characterize the impact of the graphical structure of SLAM and related problems on estimation reliability. We draw connections between several notions of graph connectivity and various properties of the underlying estimation problem. In particular, we establish results on the impact of the weighted number of spanning trees on the D-optimality criterion in 2D SLAM. These results enable agents to evaluate estimation reliability based only on the graphical representation of the EoG problem. We then use our findings and study the problem of designing sparse SLAM problems that lead to reliable maximum likelihood estimates through the synthesis of sparse graphs with the maximum weighted tree connectivity. Characterizing graphs with the maximum number of spanning trees is an open problem in general. To tackle this problem, we establish several new theoretical results, including the monotone log-submodularity of the weighted number of spanning trees. We exploit these structures and design a complementary greedy–convex pair of efficient approximation algorithms with provable guarantees. The proposed synthesis framework is applied to various forms of the measurement selection problem in resource-constrained SLAM. Our algorithms and theoretical findings are validated using random graphs, existing and new synthetic SLAM benchmarks, and publicly available real pose-graph SLAM datasets.

SLAM based on submap joining that achieves linear cost through a novel choice of the reference frame of each submap, and an interesting related works on map joining, i.e., considering submaps as observations

Liang Zhao, Shoudong Huang, Gamini Dissanayake, Linear SLAM: Linearising the SLAM problems using submap joining, Automatica, Volume 100, 2019, Pages 231-246, DOI: 10.1016/j.automatica.2018.10.037.

The main contribution of this paper is a new submap joining based approach for solving large-scale Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) problems. Each local submap is independently built using the local information through solving a small-scale SLAM; the joining of submaps mainly involves solving linear least squares and performing nonlinear coordinate transformations. Through approximating the local submap information as the state estimate and its corresponding information matrix, judiciously selecting the submap coordinate frames, and approximating the joining of a large number of submaps by joining only two maps at a time, either sequentially or in a more efficient Divide and Conquer manner, the nonlinear optimization process involved in most of the existing submap joining approaches is avoided. Thus the proposed submap joining algorithm does not require initial guess or iterations since linear least squares problems have closed-form solutions. The proposed Linear SLAM technique is applicable to feature-based SLAM, pose graph SLAM and D-SLAM, in both two and three dimensions, and does not require any assumption on the character of the covariance matrices. Simulations and experiments are performed to evaluate the proposed Linear SLAM algorithm. Results using publicly available datasets in 2D and 3D show that Linear SLAM produces results that are very close to the best solutions that can be obtained using full nonlinear optimization algorithm started from an accurate initial guess. The C/C++ and MATLAB source codes of Linear SLAM are available on OpenSLAM.

Detection of qualitative behaviours in signals

Ying Tang, Alessio Franci, Romain Postoyan, On-line detection of qualitative dynamical changes in nonlinear systems: The resting-oscillation case, Automatica, Volume 100, 2019, Pages 17-28, DOI: 10.1016/j.automatica.2018.10.058.

Motivated by neuroscience applications, we introduce the concept of qualitative detection, that is, the problem of determining on-line the current qualitative dynamical behavior (e.g., resting, oscillating, bursting, spiking etc.) of a nonlinear system. The approach is thought for systems characterized by i) large parameter variability and redundancy, ii) a small number of possible robust, qualitatively different dynamical behaviors and, iii) the presence of sharply different characteristic timescales. These properties are omnipresent in neurosciences and hamper quantitative modeling and fitting of experimental data. As a result, novel control theoretical strategies are needed to face neuroscience challenges like on-line epileptic seizure detection. The proposed approach aims at detecting the current dynamical behavior of the system and whether a qualitative change is likely to occur without quantitatively fitting any model nor asymptotically estimating any parameter. We talk of qualitative detection. We rely on the qualitative properties of the system dynamics, extracted via singularity and singular perturbation theories, to design low dimensional qualitative detectors. We introduce this concept on a general class of singularly perturbed systems and then solve the problem for an analytically tractable class of two-dimensional systems with a single unknown sigmoidal nonlinearity and two sharply separated timescales. Numerical results are provided to show the performance of the designed qualitative detector.

A nice review of visual SLAM with deep learning, and its evolution from non-learning visual SLAM

Ruihao Li, Sen Wang, DongBing Gu, Ongoing Evolution of Visual SLAM from Geometry to Deep Learning: Challenges and Opportunities, Cognitive Computation, December 2018, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 875–889, DOI: 10.1007/s12559-018-9591-8.

Visual simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) has been investigated in the robotics community for decades. Significant progress and achievements on visual SLAM have been made, with geometric model-based techniques becoming increasingly mature and accurate. However, they tend to be fragile under challenging environments. Recently, there is a trend to develop data-driven approaches, e.g., deep learning, for visual SLAM problems with more robust performance. This paper aims to witness the ongoing evolution of visual SLAM techniques from geometric model-based to data-driven approaches by providing a comprehensive technical review. Our contribution is not only just a compilation of state-of-the-art end-to-end deep learning SLAM work, but also an insight into the underlying mechanism of deep learning SLAM. For such a purpose, we provide a concise overview of geometric model-based approaches first. Next, we identify visual depth estimation using deep learning is a starting point of the evolution. It is from depth estimation that ego-motion or pose estimation techniques using deep learning flourish rapidly. In addition, we strive to link semantic segmentation using deep learning with emergent semantic SLAM techniques to shed light on simultaneous estimation of ego-motion and high-level understanding. Finally, we visualize some further opportunities in this research direction.

A developmental architecture for sensory-motor skills based on predictors, and a nice state-of-the-art in cognitive architectures for sensory-motor skill learning

E. Wieser and G. Cheng, A Self-Verifying Cognitive Architecture for Robust Bootstrapping of Sensory-Motor Skills via Multipurpose Predictors, IEEE Transactions on Cognitive and Developmental Systems, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 1081-1095, DOI: 10.1109/TCDS.2018.2871857.

The autonomous acquisition of sensory-motor skills along multiple developmental stages is one of the current challenges in robotics. To this end, we propose a new developmental cognitive architecture that combines multipurpose predictors and principles of self-verification for the robust bootstrapping of sensory-motor skills. Our architecture operates with loops formed by both mental simulation of sensory-motor sequences and their subsequent physical trial on a robot. During these loops, verification algorithms monitor the predicted and the physically observed sensory-motor data. Multiple types of predictors are acquired through several developmental stages. As a result, the architecture can select and plan actions, adapt to various robot platforms by adjusting proprioceptive feedback, predict the risk of self-collision, learn from a previous interaction stage by validating and extracting sensory-motor data for training the predictor of a subsequent stage, and finally acquire an internal representation for evaluating the performance of its predictors. These cognitive capabilities in turn realize the bootstrapping of early hand-eye coordination and its improvement. We validate the cognitive capabilities experimentally and, in particular, show an improvement of reaching as an example skill.

Weighting relations between concepts to form (hierarchically) further concepts

T. Nakamura and T. Nagai, Ensemble-of-Concept Models for Unsupervised Formation of Multiple Categories, IEEE Transactions on Cognitive and Developmental Systems, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 1043-1057, DOI: 10.1109/TCDS.2017.2745502.

Recent studies have shown that robots can form concepts and understand the meanings of words through inference. The key idea underlying these studies is the “multimodal categorization” of a robot’s experiences. Despite the success in the formation of concepts by robots, a major drawback of previous studies stems from the fact that they have been mainly focused on object concepts. Obviously, human concepts are limited not only to object concepts but also to other kinds such as those connected to the tactile sense and color. In this paper, we propose a novel model called the ensemble-of-concept models (EoCMs) to form various kinds of concepts. In EoCMs, we introduce weights that represent the strength connecting modalities and concepts. By changing these weights, many concepts that are connected to particular modalities can be formed; however, meaningless concepts for humans are included in these concepts. To communicate with humans, robots are required to form meaningful concepts for us. Therefore, we utilize utterances taught by human users as the robot observes objects. The robot connects words included in the teaching utterances with formed concepts and selects meaningful concepts to communicate with users. The experimental results show that the robot can form not only object concepts but also others such as color-related concepts and haptic concepts. Furthermore, using word2vec, we compare the meanings of the words acquired by the robot in connecting them to the concepts formed.