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Design and Analysis of Optimal Task-Processing Agents
Pavlic, Theodore Paul

2010, Doctor of Philosophy, Ohio State University, Electrical and Computer Engineering.

This dissertation is given in two parts followed by concluding remarks. The first three chapters describe the generalization of optimal foraging theory for the design of solitary task-processing agents. The following two chapters address the coordinated action of distributed independent agents to achieve a desirable global result. The short concluding part summarizes contributions and future research directions.

Optimal foraging theory (OFT) uses ecological models of energy intake to predict behaviors favored by natural selection. Using models of the long-term rate of energetic gain of a solitary forager encountering a variety of food opportunities at a regular rate, it predicts characteristics of optimal solutions that should be expressed in nature. Several engineered agents can be modeled similarly. For example, an autonomous air vehicle (AAV) that flies over a region encounters targets randomly just as an animal will encounter food as it travels. OFT describes the preferences that the animal is likely to have due to natural selection. Thus, OFT applied to mobile vehicles describes the preferences of successful vehicle designs.

Although OFT has had success in existing engineering applications, rate maximization is not a good fit for many applications that are otherwise analogous to foraging. Thus, in the first part of this dissertation, the classical OFT methods are rediscovered for generic optimization objectives. It is shown that algorithms that are computationally equivalent to those inspired by classical OFT can perform better in realistic scenarios because they are based on more feasible optimization objectives. It is then shown how the design of foraging-like algorithms provides new insight into behaviors observed and expected in animals. The generalization of the classical methods extracts fundamental properties that may have been overlooked in the biological case. Consequently, observed behaviors that have been previously been called irrational are shown to follow from the extension of the classical methods.

The second part of the dissertation describes individual agent behaviors that collectively result in the achievement of a global optimum when the distributed agents operate in parallel. In the first chapter, collections of agents that are each similar to the agents from the early chapters are considered. These agents have overlapping capabilities, and so one agent can share the task processing burden of another. For example, an AAV patrolling one area can request the help of other vehicles patrolling other areas that have a sparser distribution of targets. We present a method of volunteering to answer the request of neighboring agents such that sensitivity to the relative loading across the network emerges. In particular, agents that are relatively more loaded answer fewer task-processing requests and receive more answers to their own requests. The second chapter describes a distributed numerical optimization method for optimization under inseparable constraints. Inseparable constraints typically require some direct coordination between distributed solver agents. However, we show how certain implementations allow for stigmergy, and so far less coordination is needed among the agents. For example, intelligent lighting, which maintains illumination constraints while minimizing power usage, is one application where the distributed algorithm can be applied directly.

Kevin M. Passino (Advisor)
Andrea Serrani (Committee Member)
Atilla Eryilmaz (Committee Member)
198 p.

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