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Mechanical and Civil Engineering Seminar

Monday, April 27, 2020
9:00am to 10:00am
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Applied Safety Critical Control
Thomas Gurriet, Graduate Student, Mechanical Engineering, Caltech,

PhD Thesis Defense (webinar)

Applied Safety Critical Control


There is currently a clear gap between control-theoretical results and the reality of robotic implementation, in the sense that it is very difficult to transfer analytical guarantees to practical ones. This is especially problematic when trying to design safety-critical systems where failure is not an option. While there is a vast body of work on safety and reliability in control theory, very little of it is actually used in practice where safety margins are typically empiric and/or heuristic. Nevertheless, it is still widely accepted that a solution to these problems can only emerge from rigorous analysis, mathematics and methods. In this work, we therefore seek to help bridge this gap by revisiting and expending existing theoretical results in light of the complexity of hardware implementation.

To that end, we begin by making a clear theoretical distinction between systems and a models, and outline how the two need to be related for guarantees to transfer from the latter to the former. We then formalize various imperfections of reality that need to be accounted for at a model level to provide theoretical results with better applicability.

We then discuss the reality of digital controller implementation and present the mathematical constraints that theoretical control laws must satisfy for them to be implementable on real hardware. In light of these discussions, we derive new realizable set-invariance conditions that if properly enforced can guarantee safety with an arbitrary high levels of confidence.

We then discuss how these conditions can be rigorously enforced in a systematic and minimally invasive way through convex optimization based Safety Filters. Multiple safety filter formulations are proposed with varying levels of complexity and applicability. To enable the use of these safety filters, a new algorithm is presented to compute appropriate control invariant sets and guarantee feasibility of the optimization problem defining these filters.

The effectiveness of this approach is demonstrated in simulation on a nonlinear inverted pendulum and experimentally on a simple vehicle. The aptitude of the framework to handle system's dynamics uncertainty is illustrated by varying the mass of the vehicle and showcasing when safety is conserved. Then, the aptitude of this approach to provide guarantees that account for controller implementation's constraints is illustrated by varying the frequency of the control loop and again showcasing when safety is conserved.

In the second part of this work, we revisit the safety filtering approach in a way that addresses the scalability issues of the first part of this work. There are two main approaches to safety-critical control. The first one relies on computation of control invariant sets and was presented in the first part of this work. The second approach draws from the topic of optimal control and relies on the ability to realize Model-Predictive-Controllers online to guarantee the safety of a system. In that online approach, safety is ensured at a planning stage by solving the control problem subject for some explicitly defined constraints on the state and control input. Both approaches have distinct advantages but also major drawbacks that hinder their practical effectiveness, namely scalability for the first one and computational complexity for the second one.

We therefore present an approach that draws from the advantages of both approaches to deliver efficient and scalable methods of ensuring safety for nonlinear dynamical systems. In particular, we show that identifying a backup control law that stabilizes the system is in fact sufficient to exploit some of the set-invariance conditions presented in the first part of this work.

Indeed, one only needs to be able to numerically integrate the closed loop dynamics of the system over a finite horizon under this backup law to compute all the information necessary for evaluating the regulation map and enforcing safety.

The effect of relaxing the stabilization requirements of the backup law is also studied and weaker but more practical safety guarantees are brought forward.

We then explore the relationship between the optimality of the backup law and how conservative the resulting safety filter is.

Finally, methods of selecting a safe input with varying levels of trade-off between conservativeness and computational complexity are proposed and illustrated on multiple robotic systems, namely: a two-wheeled inverted pendulum (Segway), an industrial manipulator, a quadrotor, and a lower body exoskeleton.

For more information, please contact Holly Golcher by email at [email protected].