Escaping local optima in a class of multi-agent distributed optimization problems: a boosting function approach
We address the problem of multiple local optima commonly arising in optimization problems for multi-agent systems, where objective functions are nonlinear and nonconvex. For the class of coverage control problems, we propose a systematic approach for escaping a local optimum, rather than randomly perturbing controllable variables away from it. We show that the objective function for these problems can be decomposed to facilitate the evaluation of the local partial derivative of each node in the system and to provide insights into its structure. This structure is exploited by defining 'boosting functions' applied to the aforementioned local partial derivative at an equilibrium point where its value is zero so as to transform it in a way that induces nodes to explore poorly covered areas of the mission space until a new equilibrium point is reached. The proposed boosting process ensures that, at its conclusion, the objective function is no worse than its pre-boosting value. However, the global optima cannot be guaranteed. We define three families of boosting functions with different properties and provide simulation results illustrating how this approach improves the solutions obtained for this class of distributed optimization problems.