Problem decomposition by mutual information and force-based clustering
Otero, Richard Edward
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The scale of engineering problems has sharply increased over the last twenty years. Larger coupled systems, increasing complexity, and limited resources create a need for methods that automatically decompose problems into manageable sub-problems by discovering and leveraging problem structure. The ability to learn the coupling (inter-dependence) structure and reorganize the original problem could lead to large reductions in the time to analyze complex problems. Such decomposition methods could also provide engineering insight on the fundamental physics driving problem solution. This work forwards the current state of the art in engineering decomposition through the application of techniques originally developed within computer science and information theory. The work describes the current state of automatic problem decomposition in engineering and utilizes several promising ideas to advance the state of the practice. Mutual information is a novel metric for data dependence and works on both continuous and discrete data. Mutual information can measure both the linear and non-linear dependence between variables without the limitations of linear dependence measured through covariance. Mutual information is also able to handle data that does not have derivative information, unlike other metrics that require it. The value of mutual information to engineering design work is demonstrated on a planetary entry problem. This study utilizes a novel tool developed in this work for planetary entry system synthesis. A graphical method, force-based clustering, is used to discover related sub-graph structure as a function of problem structure and links ranked by their mutual information. This method does not require the stochastic use of neural networks and could be used with any link ranking method currently utilized in the field. Application of this method is demonstrated on a large, coupled low-thrust trajectory problem. Mutual information also serves as the basis for an alternative global optimizer, called MIMIC, which is unrelated to Genetic Algorithms. Advancement to the current practice demonstrates the use of MIMIC as a global method that explicitly models problem structure with mutual information, providing an alternate method for globally searching multi-modal domains. By leveraging discovered problem inter-dependencies, MIMIC may be appropriate for highly coupled problems or those with large function evaluation cost. This work introduces a useful addition to the MIMIC algorithm that enables its use on continuous input variables. By leveraging automatic decision tree generation methods from Machine Learning and a set of randomly generated test problems, decision trees for which method to apply are also created, quantifying decomposition performance over a large region of the design space.