Main Article Content
The need for efficient monitoring of spatio-temporal dynamics in large environmental applications, such as the water quality monitoring in rivers and lakes, motivates the use of robotic sensors in order to achieve sufficient spatial coverage. Typically, these robots have bounded resources, such as limited battery or limited amounts of time to obtain measurements. Thus, careful coordination of their paths is required in order to maximize the amount of information collected, while respecting the resource constraints. In this paper, we present an efficient approach for near-optimally solving the NP-hard optimization problem of planning such informative paths. In particular, we first develop eSIP (efficient Single-robot Informative Path planning), an approximation algorithm for optimizing the path of a single robot. Hereby, we use a Gaussian Process to model the underlying phenomenon, and use the mutual information between the visited locations and remainder of the space to quantify the amount of information collected. We prove that the mutual information collected using paths obtained by using eSIP is close to the information obtained by an optimal solution. We then provide a general technique, sequential allocation, which can be used to extend any single robot planning algorithm, such as eSIP, for the multi-robot problem. This procedure approximately generalizes any guarantees for the single-robot problem to the multi-robot case. We extensively evaluate the effectiveness of our approach on several experiments performed in-field for two important environmental sensing applications, lake and river monitoring, and simulation experiments performed using several real world sensor network data sets.