Active Inference and Behaviour Trees as alternatives to POMDPs and the like in the perception and action of robots

C. Pezzato, C. H. Corbato, S. Bonhof and M. Wisse, Active Inference and Behavior Trees for Reactive Action Planning and Execution in Robotics, IEEE Transactions on Robotics, vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 1050-1069, April 2023 DOI: 10.1109/TRO.2022.3226144.

In this article, we propose a hybrid combination of active inference and behavior trees (BTs) for reactive action planning and execution in dynamic environments, showing how robotic tasks can be formulated as a free-energy minimization problem. The proposed approach allows handling partially observable initial states and improves the robustness of classical BTs against unexpected contingencies while at the same time reducing the number of nodes in a tree. In this work, we specify the nominal behavior offline, through BTs. However, in contrast to previous approaches, we introduce a new type of leaf node to specify the desired state to be achieved rather than an action to execute. The decision of which action to execute to reach the desired state is performed online through active inference. This results in continual online planning and hierarchical deliberation. By doing so, an agent can follow a predefined offline plan while still keeping the ability to locally adapt and take autonomous decisions at runtime, respecting safety constraints. We provide proof of convergence and robustness analysis, and we validate our method in two different mobile manipulators performing similar tasks, both in a simulated and real retail environment. The results showed improved runtime adaptability with a fraction of the hand-coded nodes compared to classical BTs.

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