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Understanding Solutions and Singular Matrices

  1. Feb 1, 2014 #1
    Hey folks.
    I'm working on a project which seems to be encountering a problem.
    I took Linear Algebra a few years ago in college, and haven't really applied it very much so I'm at a bit of a loss here.

    I have a solution to a iterative nonlinear least squares problem: Trilateration with n distances.
    I'm implementing the algorithm found in this PDF in java using the JAMA library.

    I don't understand much of the math here, and I need to figure out why my matrices are singular (unfortunately the inverse is part of the equation handed to me).
    So I guess I'm asking a few things.

    1. For Equation (40) (pg 18) R{k+1}=R{k}-(JT{k}J{k})-1J{k}f
    I'm ending up with a JT{k}J{k} term which is singular. This means I cannot directly solve this equation. But while I'm familiar with solving equations of the form Ax=B I'm not really sure how to find an alternate solution for equation (40).

    2. How robust is the JAMA library in general, is there a better linear algebra system for java?

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 1, 2014 #2


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    My 2 cents:
    It would surprise me if any commercial software math package had unusual trouble inverting a matrix. I would be more suspicious of the matrices you are giving it. You might try putting your matrix into another package and see if it has trouble.

    The article you reference says that their C++ code is available from the authors. You might check into that.

    For debugging your own code:
    1) Have you tried the example in the article? It would be interesting to see if your code works on their data.
    2) Having the author's C++ implementation would give you something to compare intermediate results against.
    3) Throughout the paper, the problem of ill-conditioned matrices is central. So your problem may be common if the data is not as good as their example. In their example, it looks like they have 8 positions in a nice circle. Do you have that in the data you are using?
  4. Feb 1, 2014 #3
    I'm in touch with the author. The C++ code is actually proprietary and controlled by the mining company who commissioned it. My first instinct was also to examine it directly. Porting C++ to java is trivial.

    The matrices may be poorly conditioned. Unfortunately my real-world data may be poorly conditioned too. I am running against their data. The algorithm fails my random tests (randomly). It's possible I need to modify the algorithm to deal with more uncertainty, but that's not possible until I understand exactly how the math functions (I thought I had a decent handle on it until I tried to implement it).
  5. Feb 1, 2014 #4


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    I would be suspicious of any implementation of an algorithms that explicitly invert the matrix, in any case. You don't need to invert a matrix to solve a set of equations, which presumably* is what you are trying to do here. You need to factorize the matrix in some way (and that can be well conditioned even for singular matrices) but inverting the matrix explicitly is usually poorly conditioned, and almost always unnecessary and inefficient.

    * I say "presumably," because the PDF reference gives some details of two standard methods for solving linear least squares problems (though it's hard to see what the motivation for writing those section was - if you understand the methods they don't tell you anything, and if you don't understand them they probably also don't tell you anything useful) but nothing of any substance about their preferred method of solving the nonlinear least squares problem.

    It's hard to say anything constructive given the lack of information about the problem, but I guess the most likely explanation is that
    was over optimistic, though it should certainly be possible.
  6. Feb 1, 2014 #5
    Yeah, I'm doing nonlinear minimization of squares in relation to a reference point.

    Maybe this is the part I don't really understand. I get that I have a set of n spheres (where n > 4) and 3 unknowns. I can figure out the residual equations, and compute the differentials.
    I understand that we model the nonlinear equation as a linear one and refine by iteration, but I'm not sure how to do that with a system of simultaneous equations. Not sure what the solution from the residual equations to the vector for the next guess would be. Conceptually I'm missing the translation there.

    I've looked at Wikipedia and Mathmatica's nonlinear least squares minimization and found them both intractable. I'm not sure I understand half of the notation there. I've seen a few more explanations of Nonlinear Least Squares and I vaguely understand the procedure.

    I think the thing I'm missing is the linearized estimate. I don't have enough linear algebra to create the Ax=B form required by the apache math3 library or JAMA.
  7. Feb 2, 2014 #6


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    I should have said that a mature matrix inversion algorithm should not have any unnecessary problem inverting a matrix. In these days of double-precision calculation, it takes a very ill-conditioned matrix to cause problems. But a singular matrix can not be inverted by any algorithm. A pseudoinverse is the best you can hope for.

    One way or another, any algorithm will do the same thing that inverting the matrix would do. If the matrix is ill-conditioned, then the algorithm will have to deal with it. The ill-condition is in the equations being solved, not in the method, and there is no way around it.

    That being said, there are ways to mitigate the problem. The simplex method of linear programming will invert a nonsingular, well-conditioned, matrix. If the matrix is singular, the same algorithm generates a pseudoinverse. But then the answers are not unique.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2014
  8. Feb 2, 2014 #7
    I'll look into the simplex method. Hopefully the answers will be close enough. This is a non-linear least squares problem, and I don't need an exact solution. I only need the statistically least wrong solution. Or a decent approximation.

    I'm trying to use QR Decomposition to solve the systems first, and then I fail over into SingularValueDecomposition, and if that throws and exception I'll see if I can apply the simplex method.
  9. Feb 2, 2014 #8


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    I don't think that the simplex method will help you. It's for linear programming. I was just responding to another post and was digressing. Sorry.
  10. Feb 2, 2014 #9


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    I have no idea what FactChecker means by that (and I do know what the technical terms mean).

    There is another "simplex method" which has nothing to do with linear programming, also known as the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelder–Mead_method

    Nelder-Mead could probably be used to solve your nonlinear optimization problem, but from the OP's PDF, I don't think that was the method used there.
  11. Feb 2, 2014 #10


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    Sorry. I wasn't very clear and I am afraid that this is diverging from the original question.

    The simplex method for solving a linear programming problem will find the optimum of linear function c \cdot x subject to linear constraints Ax = b, x>0 . The method is a sequence of "pivot" calculations. It is possible to start the algorithm with an identity matrix included as additional columns in a table. If A is nonsingular, the inverse of A is produced in the location where the identity matrix was. If the matrix A is singular, the end result is a pseudoinverse of A in that position.

    I don't think that the Nelder-Mead method for nonlinear programming is related, but I am not familiar with it.
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