ScottyActivity: Mixed Discrete-Continuous Planning with Convex Optimization

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The state of the art practice in robotics planning is to script behaviors manually, where each behavior is typically generated using trajectory optimization. However, in order for robots to be able to act robustly and adapt to novel situations, they need to plan these activity sequences autonomously. Since the conditions and effects of these behaviors are tightly coupled through time, state and control variables, many problems require that the tasks of activity planning and trajectory optimization are considered together. There are two key issues underlying effective hybrid activity and trajectory planning: the sufficiently accurate modeling of robot dynamics and the capability of planning over long horizons. Hybrid activity and trajectory planners that employ mixed integer programming within a discrete time formulation are able to accurately model complex dynamics for robot vehicles, but are often restricted to relatively short horizons. On the other hand, current hybrid activity planners that employ continuous time formulations can handle longer horizons but they only allow actions to have continuous effects with constant rate of change, and restrict the allowed state constraints to linear inequalities. This is insufficient for many robotic applications and it greatly limits the expressivity of the problems that these approaches can solve. In this work we present the ScottyActivity planner, that is able to generate practical hybrid activity and motion plans over long horizons by employing recent methods in convex optimization combined with methods for planning with relaxed plan graphs and heuristic forward search. Unlike other continuous time planners, ScottyActivity can solve a broad class of robotic planning problems by supporting convex quadratic constraints on state variables and control variables that are jointly constrained and that affect multiple state variables simultaneously. In order to support planning over long horizons, ScottyActivity does not resort to time, state or control variable discretization. While straightforward formulations of consistency checks are not convex and do not scale, we present an efficient convex formulation, in the form of a Second Order Cone Program (SOCP), that is very fast to solve. We also introduce several new realistic domains that demonstrate the capabilities and scalability of our approach, and their simplified linear versions, that we use to compare with other state of the art planners. This work demonstrates the power of integrating advanced convex optimization techniques with discrete search methods and paves the way for extensions dealing with non-convex disjoint constraints, such as obstacle avoidance.

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