A novel M-estimator for robust PCA

Teng Zhang, Gilad Lerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


We study the basic problem of robust subspace recovery. That is, we assume a data set that some of its points are sampled around a fixed subspace and the rest of them are spread in the whole ambient space, and we aim to recover the fixed underlying subspace. We first estimate "robust inverse sample covariance" by solving a convex minimization procedure; we then recover the subspace by the bottom eigenvectors of this matrix (their number correspond to the number of eigenvalues close to 0). We guarantee exact subspace recovery under some conditions on the underlying data. Furthermore, we propose a fast iterative algorithm, which linearly converges to the matrix minimizing the convex problem. We also quantify the effect of noise and regularization and discuss many other practical and theoretical issues for improving the subspace recovery in various settings. When replacing the sum of terms in the convex energy function (that we minimize) with the sum of squares of terms, we obtain that the new minimizer is a scaled version of the inverse sample covariance (when exists). We thus interpret our minimizer and its subspace (spanned by its bottom eigenvectors) as robust versions of the empirical inverse covariance and the PCA subspace respectively. We compare our method with many other algorithms for robust PCA on synthetic and real data sets and demonstrate state-of-the-art speed and accuracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)749-808
Number of pages60
JournalJournal of Machine Learning Research
StatePublished - Feb 2014


  • Convex relaxation
  • Iteratively re-weighted least squares
  • M-estimator
  • Principal components analysis
  • Robust statistics


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