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Optimization plays an essential role in industrial design, but is not limited to minimization of a simple function, such as cost or strength. These tools are also used in conceptual phases, to better understand what is possible. To support this exploration we focus on Quality Diversity (QD) algorithms, which produce sets of varied, high performing solutions. These techniques often require the evaluation of millions of solutions -- making them impractical in design cases. In this thesis we propose methods to radically improve the data-efficiency of QD with machine learning, enabling its application to design. In our first contribution, we develop a method of modeling the performance of evolved neural networks used for control and design. The structures of these networks grow and change, making them difficult to model -- but with a new method we are able to estimate their performance based on their heredity, improving data-efficiency by several times. In our second contribution we combine model-based optimization with MAP-Elites, a QD algorithm. A model of performance is created from known designs, and MAP-Elites creates a new set of designs using this approximation. A subset of these designs are the evaluated to improve the model, and the process repeats. We show that this approach improves the efficiency of MAP-Elites by orders of magnitude. Our third contribution integrates generative models into MAP-Elites to learn domain specific encodings. A variational autoencoder is trained on the solutions produced by MAP-Elites, capturing the common “recipe” for high performance. This learned encoding can then be reused by other algorithms for rapid optimization, including MAP-Elites. Throughout this thesis, though the focus of our vision is design, we examine applications in other fields, such as robotics. These advances are not exclusive to design, but serve as foundational work on the integration of QD and machine learning.

Surrogate-assistance approaches have long been used in computationally expensive domains to improve the data-efficiency of optimization algorithms. Neuroevolution, however, has so far resisted the application of these techniques because it requires the surrogate model to make fitness predictions based on variable topologies, instead of a vector of parameters. Our main insight is that we can sidestep this problem by using kernel-based surrogate models, which require only the definition of a distance measure between individuals. Our second insight is that the well-established Neuroevolution of Augmenting Topologies (NEAT) algorithm provides a computationally efficient distance measure between dissimilar networks in the form of "compatibility distance", initially designed to maintain topological diversity. Combining these two ideas, we introduce a surrogate-assisted neuroevolution algorithm that combines NEAT and a surrogate model built using a compatibility distance kernel. We demonstrate the data-efficiency of this new algorithm on the low dimensional cart-pole swing-up problem, as well as the higher dimensional half-cheetah running task. In both tasks the surrogate-assisted variant achieves the same or better results with several times fewer function evaluations as the original NEAT.

The MAP-Elites algorithm produces a set of high-performing solutions that vary according to features defined by the user. This technique to 'illuminate' the problem space through the lens of chosen features has the potential to be a powerful tool for exploring design spaces, but is limited by the need for numerous evaluations. The Surrogate-Assisted Illumination (SAIL) algorithm, introduced here, integrates approximative models and intelligent sampling of the objective function to minimize the number of evaluations required by MAP-Elites.
The ability of SAIL to efficiently produce both accurate models and diverse high-performing solutions is illustrated on a 2D airfoil design problem. The search space is divided into bins, each holding a design with a different combination of features. In each bin SAIL produces a better performing solution than MAP-Elites, and requires several orders of magnitude fewer evaluations. The CMA-ES algorithm was used to produce an optimal design in each bin: with the same number of evaluations required by CMA-ES to find a near-optimal solution in a single bin, SAIL finds solutions of similar quality in every bin.

Maximal covering location problems have efficiently been solved using evolutionary computation. The multi-stage placement of charging stations for electric cars is an instance of this problem which is addressed in this study. It is particularly challenging, because a final solution is constructed in multiple steps, stations cannot be relocated easily and intermediate solutions should be optimal with respect to certain objectives.

A novel approach to produce 2D designs by adapting the HyperNEAT algorithm to evolve non-uniform rational basis splines (NURBS) is presented. This representation is proposed as an alternative to previous pixel-based approaches primarily motivated by aesthetic interests, and not designed for optimization tasks. This spline representation outperforms previous pixel-based approaches on target matching tasks, performing well even in matching irregular target shapes. In addition to improved evolvability in the face of a well defined fitness metric, a NURBS representation has the added virtues of being continuous rather than discrete, as well as being intuitive and easily modified by graphic and industrial designers.

An evolved neural network controller is presented to solve the optimal control problem for energy optimal driving. A controller is produced which computes equivalent control commands to traditional graph searching approaches, while able to adapt to varied constraints and conditions. Furthermore, after training, trivial amounts of computation time and memory are required, making the approach applicable for embedded systems and path planning applications.

An evolutionary algorithm is presented to solve the optimal control problem for energy optimal driving. Results show that the algorithm computes equivalent strategies as traditional graph searching approaches like dynamic programming or A*. The algorithm proves to be time efficient while saving multiple orders of magnitude in memory compared to graph searching techniques. Thereby making it applicable in embedded applications such as eco-driving assistants or intelligent route planning.

AErOmAt Abschlussbericht
(2020)

Das Projekt AErOmAt hatte zum Ziel, neue Methoden zu entwickeln, um einen erheblichen Teil aerodynamischer Simulationen bei rechenaufwändigen Optimierungsdomänen einzusparen. Die Hochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg (H-BRS) hat auf diesem Weg einen gesellschaftlich relevanten und gleichzeitig wirtschaftlich verwertbaren Beitrag zur Energieeffizienzforschung geleistet. Das Projekt führte außerdem zu einer schnelleren Integration der neuberufenen Antragsteller in die vorhandenen Forschungsstrukturen.

Design optimization techniques are often used at the beginning of the design process to explore the space of possible designs. In these domains illumination algorithms, such as MAP-Elites, are promising alternatives to classic optimization algorithms because they produce diverse, high-quality solutions in a single run, instead of only a single near-optimal solution. Unfortunately, these algorithms currently require a large number of function evaluations, limiting their applicability. In this article we introduce a new illumination algorithm, Surrogate-Assisted Illumination (SAIL), that leverages surrogate modeling techniques to create a map of the design space according to user-defined features while minimizing the number of fitness evaluations. On a two-dimensional airfoil optimization problem SAIL produces hundreds of diverse but high-performing designs with several orders of magnitude fewer evaluations than MAP-Elites or CMA-ES. We demonstrate that SAIL is also capable of producing maps of high-performing designs in realistic three-dimensional aerodynamic tasks with an accurate flow simulation. Data-efficient design exploration with SAIL can help designers understand what is possible, beyond what is optimal, by considering more than pure objective-based optimization.

The MAP-Elites algorithm produces a set of high-performing solutions that vary according to features defined by the user. This technique has the potential to be a powerful tool for design space exploration, but is limited by the need for numerous evaluations. The Surrogate-Assisted Illumination algorithm (SAIL), introduced here, integrates approximative models and intelligent sampling of the objective function to minimize the number of evaluations required by MAP-Elites.
The ability of SAIL to efficiently produce both accurate models and diverse high performing solutions is illustrated on a 2D airfoil design problem. The search space is divided into bins, each holding a design with a different combination of features. In each bin SAIL produces a better performing solution than MAP-Elites, and requires several orders of magnitude fewer evaluations. The CMA-ES algorithm was used to produce an optimal design in each bin: with the same number of evaluations required by CMA-ES to find a near-optimal solution in a single bin, SAIL finds solutions of similar quality in every bin.

Not all neural network architectures are created equal, some perform much better than others for certain tasks. But how important are the weight parameters of a neural network compared to its architecture? In this work, we question to what extent neural network architectures alone, without learning any weight parameters, can encode solutions for a given task. We propose a search method for neural network architectures that can already perform a task without any explicit weight training. To evaluate these networks, we populate the connections with a single shared weight parameter sampled from a uniform random distribution, and measure the expected performance. We demonstrate that our method can find minimal neural network architectures that can perform several reinforcement learning tasks without weight training. On a supervised learning domain, we find network architectures that achieve much higher than chance accuracy on MNIST using random weights. Interactive version of this paper at https://weightagnostic.github.io/

The way solutions are represented, or encoded, is usually the result of domain knowledge and experience. In this work, we combine MAP-Elites with Variational Autoencoders to learn a Data-Driven Encoding (DDE) that captures the essence of the highest-performing solutions while still able to encode a wide array of solutions. Our approach learns this data-driven encoding during optimization by balancing between exploiting the DDE to generalize the knowledge contained in the current archive of elites and exploring new representations that are not yet captured by the DDE. Learning representation during optimization allows the algorithm to solve high-dimensional problems, and provides a low-dimensional representation which can be then be re-used. We evaluate the DDE approach by evolving solutions for inverse kinematics of a planar arm (200 joint angles) and for gaits of a 6-legged robot in action space (a sequence of 60 positions for each of the 12 joints). We show that the DDE approach not only accelerates and improves optimization, but produces a powerful encoding that captures a bias for high performance while expressing a variety of solutions.

The encoding of solutions in black-box optimization is a delicate, handcrafted balance between expressiveness and domain knowledge between exploring a wide variety of solutions, and ensuring that those solutions are useful. Our main insight is that this process can be automated by generating a dataset of high-performing solutions with a quality diversity algorithm (here, MAP-Elites), then learning a representation with a generative model (here, a Varia-tional Autoencoder) from that dataset. Our second insight is that this representation can be used to scale quality diversity optimization to higher dimensions-but only if we carefully mix solutions generated with the learned representation and those generated with traditional variation operators. We demonstrate these capabilities by learning an low-dimensional encoding for the inverse kinemat-ics of a thousand joint planar arm. The results show that learned representations make it possible to solve high-dimensional problems with orders of magnitude fewer evaluations than the standard MAP-Elites, and that, once solved, the produced encoding can be used for rapid optimization of novel, but similar, tasks. The presented techniques not only scale up quality diversity algorithms to high dimensions, but show that black-box optimization encodings can be automatically learned, rather than hand designed.

A new method for design space exploration and optimization, Surrogate-Assisted Illumination (SAIL), is presented. Inspired by robotics techniques designed to produce diverse repertoires of behaviors for use in damage recovery, SAIL produces diverse designs that vary according to features specified by the designer. By producing high-performing designs with varied combinations of user-defined features a map of the design space is created. This map illuminates the relationship between the chosen features and performance, and can aid designers in identifying promising design concepts. SAIL is designed for use with compu-tationally expensive design problems, such as fluid or structural dynamics, and integrates approximative models and intelligent sampling of the objective function to minimize the number of function evaluations required. On a 2D airfoil optimization problem SAIL is shown to produce hundreds of diverse designs which perform competitively with those found by state-of-the-art black box optimization. Its capabilities are further illustrated in a more expensive 3D aerodynamic optimization task.

Are quality diversity algorithms better at generating stepping stones than objective-based search?
(2019)

The route to the solution of complex design problems often lies through intermediate "stepping stones" which bear little resemblance to the final solution. By greedily following the path of greatest fitness improvement, objective-based search overlooks and discards stepping stones which might be critical to solving the problem. Here, we hypothesize that Quality Diversity (QD) algorithms are a better way to generate stepping stones than objective-based search: by maintaining a large set of solutions which are of high-quality, but phenotypically different, these algorithms collect promising stepping stones while protecting them in their own "ecological niche". To demonstrate the capabilities of QD we revisit the challenge of recreating images produced by user-driven evolution, a classic challenge which spurred work in novelty search and illustrated the limits of objective-based search. We show that QD far outperforms objective-based search in matching user-evolved images. Further, our results suggest some intriguing possibilities for leveraging the diversity of solutions created by QD.

Surrogate models are used to reduce the burden of expensive-to-evaluate objective functions in optimization. By creating models which map genomes to objective values, these models can estimate the performance of unknown inputs, and so be used in place of expensive objective functions. Evolutionary techniques such as genetic programming or neuroevolution commonly alter the structure of the genome itself. A lack of consistency in the genotype is a fatal blow to data-driven modeling techniques: interpolation between points is impossible without a common input space. However, while the dimensionality of genotypes may differ across individuals, in many domains, such as controllers or classifiers, the dimensionality of the input and output remains constant. In this work we leverage this insight to embed differing neural networks into the same input space. To judge the difference between the behavior of two neural networks, we give them both the same input sequence, and examine the difference in output. This difference, the phenotypic distance, can then be used to situate these networks into a common input space, allowing us to produce surrogate models which can predict the performance of neural networks regardless of topology. In a robotic navigation task, we show that models trained using this phenotypic embedding perform as well or better as those trained on the weight values of a fixed topology neural network. We establish such phenotypic surrogate models as a promising and flexible approach which enables surrogate modeling even for representations that undergo structural changes.