## Sunday, September 8, 2024

### A Bicriterion Movement Model

A question on Operations Research Stack Exchange asks about a bicriterion routing problem. The underlying scenario is as follows. A service area is partitioned into a rectangular grid, with a robot beginning (and eventually ending) in a specified cell. Each move of the robot is to an adjacent cell (up, down, left or right but not diagonal). The robot must eventually visit each cell at least once and return whence it came. One criterion for the solution is the number of movements (equivalently, the amount of time, since we assume constant speed) required for the robot to make its rounds. In addition, each cell is assigned a nonnegative priority (weight), and the second criterion is the sum over all cells of the time of the first visit weighted by the the priority of the cell. In other words, higher priority cells should be visited earlier. Both criteria are to be minimized.

The problem can be modeled as either an integer program or a constraint program. The movement portion is quite straightforward to model. Balancing the two objectives is where things get interesting. One can optimize either criterion after setting a bound on how bad the other can be, or one can use lexicographic ordering of the criteria (optimize the primary objective while finding the best possible value of the secondary objective given that the primary must remain optimal), or one can optimize a weighted combination of the two objectives (and then play with the weights to explore the Pareto frontier). Weighted combinations are a somewhat tricky business when the objective functions being merged are not directly comparable. For instance, merging two cost functions is pretty straightforward (a dollar of cost is a dollar of cost, at least until the accountants get involved). Merging distance traveled and "priority" (or "urgency", or "weighted delay") is much less straightforward. In real life (as opposed to answering questions on ORSE), I would want to sit with the problem owner and explore acceptable tradeoffs. How much longer could a "good" route be if it reduced weighted delays by 1 unit?

I chose to use an integer program (in Java, with CPLEX as the optimization engine), since CPLEX directly supports lexicographic combinations of objectives. You can find the source code in my GitLab repository. A write-up of the model is in a PDF file here, and output for the test case in the ORSE question is in a text file here. The output includes one run where I minimized delay while limiting the distance to a middle value between the minimum possible distance and the distance obtain from lexicographic ordering with delay having the higher priority. It turned out that compromising a little on distance did not help the delay value.