Exact Verification of ReLU Neural Control Barrier Functions

Hongchao Zhang · Junlin Wu · Yevgeniy Vorobeychik · Andrew Clark

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #1024
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Tue 12 Dec 3:15 p.m. PST — 5:15 p.m. PST


Control Barrier Functions (CBFs) are a popular approach for safe control of nonlinear systems. In CBF-based control, the desired safety properties of the system are mapped to nonnegativity of a CBF, and the control input is chosen to ensure that the CBF remains nonnegative for all time. Recently, machine learning methods that represent CBFs as neural networks (neural control barrier functions, or NCBFs) have shown great promise due to the universal representability of neural networks. However, verifying that a learned CBF guarantees safety remains a challenging research problem. This paper presents novel exact conditions and algorithms for verifying safety of feedforward NCBFs with ReLU activation functions. The key challenge in doing so is that, due to the piecewise linearity of the ReLU function, the NCBF will be nondifferentiable at certain points, thus invalidating traditional safety verification methods that assume a smooth barrier function. We resolve this issue by leveraging a generalization of Nagumo's theorem for proving invariance of sets with nonsmooth boundaries to derive necessary and sufficient conditions for safety. Based on this condition, we propose an algorithm for safety verification of NCBFs that first decomposes the NCBF into piecewise linear segments and then solves a nonlinear program to verify safety of each segment as well as the intersections of the linear segments. We mitigate the complexity by only considering the boundary of the safe region and by pruning the segments with Interval Bound Propagation (IBP) and linear relaxation. We evaluate our approach through numerical studies with comparison to state-of-the-art SMT-based methods. Our code is available at

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