Section: New Results
Fundamental results and algorithms: distributed planning
Participants : Eric Fabre, Loig Jézéquel.
A planning problem consists in organizing some actions in order to reach an objective. Formally, this is equivalent to finding a path from an initial state to a goal/marked state in a huge automaton. The latter is specified by a collection of resources, that may be available or not (which defines a state), and actions that consume and produce resources (which defines a transition). In the case of optimal planning, actions have a cost, and the objective is to find a path of minimal cost to the goal.
Our interest in this problem is threefold. First, it is naturally an instance of a concurrent system, given that actions have local effects on resources. Secondly, it is a weak form of an optimal control problem for a concurrent/distributed system. Finally, we are interested in distributed solutions to such problems, which is an active topic in the planning community under the name of “factored planning.”
Our previous contributions to the domain was the first optimal factored planning algorithm  . The main idea is to represent a planning problem as a network of interacting weighted automata, the objective being to jointly drive all of them to a target state, while minimizing the cost of their joint trajectory. We have developed and tested  a distributed algorithm to solve this problem, based on a weighted automata calculus, and that takes the shape of a message passing procedure. Components perform local computations, exchange messages with their neighbors, in an asynchronous manner, and the procedure converges to the path that each component should follow. The optimal global plan is thus given as a tuple of (compatible) local plans, i.e. a partial order of actions.
In 2011, we have extended this framework in two directions. In terms of modelling, first. In most planning problems, some actions consume/produce resources, but also are enabled by the presence of other resources, that they only read but not consume. We have proposed to model this feature under the form of networks of automata with read arcs. Interactions then take the form of synchronous actions, as previously, but also the form of readings: a component may only be allowed to fire some local transition if another component is in a specific state. Our distributed planning approach has then been extended to this new model of distributed systems  .
The second improvement is algorithmic. So far, our distributed optimal planning algorithm computes all possible distributed plans, in a factored form. This contrasts with the philosophy of planning algorithms, that look for one plan only, and organize the computations to quickly reach the best plan. In other words, most planning algorithms are based on a common ground known as the A-star algorithm, a depth-first search procedure in a graph, guided by a heuristic function that estimates the remaining cost to reach the goal. We have developed a truly distributed version of this algorithm, to perform a search on a product graph. Each component runs an A-star procedure to find a path to its goal, taking into account the costs of its neighbors in order to guarantee that all components converge to local plans that are compatible and jointly optimal.