Section: Research Program
Fundamental Research Topics
This part presents the research topics investigated by the project:
These research topics are in fact not independent. The work of the team thus frequently relates transverse aspects such as explained global constraints, Benders decomposition and explanations, flexible and dynamic constraints, linear models and relaxations of constraints.
Constraints Classification, Reformulation and Filtering
In this context our research is focused (a) first on identifying recurring combinatorial structures that can be used for modelling a large variety of optimization problems, and (b) exploit these combinatorial structures in order to come up with efficient algorithms in the different fields of optimization technology. The key idea for achieving point (b) is that many filtering algorithms both in the context of Constraint Programming, Mathematical Programming and Local Search can be interpreted as the maintenance of invariants on specific domains (e.g., graph, geometry). The systematic classification of global constraints and of their relaxation brings a synthetic view of the field. It establishes links between the properties of the concepts used to describe constraints and the properties of the constraints themselves. Together with SICS , the team develops and maintains a catalog of global constraints, which describes the semantics of more than 431 constraints, and proposes a unified mathematical model for expressing them. This model is based on graphs, automata and logic formulae and allows to derive filtering methods and automatic reformulation for each constraint in a unified way (see http://www.emn.fr/xinfo/sdemasse/gccat/index.html ). We consider hybrid methods (i.e., methods that involve more than one optimization technology such as constraint programming, mathematical programming or local search), to draw benefit from the respective advantages of the combined approaches. More fundamentally, the study of hybrid methods makes it possible to compare and connect strategies of resolution specific to each approach for then conceiving new strategies. Beside the works on classical, complete resolution techniques, we also investigate local search techniques from a mathematical point of view. These partly random algorithms have been proven very efficient in practice, although we have little theoretical knowledge on their behaviour, which often makes them problemspecific. Our research in that area is focused on a probabilistic model of local search techniques, from which we want to derive quantified information on their behaviour, in order to use this information directly when designing the algorithms and exploit their performances better. We also consider algorithms that maintain local and global consistencies, for more specific models. Having in mind the trade off between genericity and effectiveness, the effort is put on the efficiency of the algorithms with guarantee on the produced levels of filtering. This effort results in adapting existing techniques of resolution such as graph algorithms. For this purpose we identify necessary conditions of feasibility that can be evaluated by efficient incremental algorithms. Genericity is not neglected in these approaches: on the one hand the constraints we focus on are applicable in many contexts (for example, graph partitioning constraints can be used both in logistics and in phylogeny); on the other hand, this work led to study the portability of such constraints and their independence with specific solvers. This research orientation gathers various work such as strong local consistencies, graph partitioning constraints, geometrical constraints, and optimization and soft constraints. Within the perspective to deal with complex industrial problems, we currently develop meta constraints (e.g. geost ) handling all together the issues of largescale problems, dynamic constraints, combination of spatial and temporal dimensions, expression of business rules described with first order logic.
Convergence between Discrete and Continuous
Many industrial problems mix continuous and discrete aspects that respectively correspond to physical (e.g., the position, the speed of an object) and logical (e.g., the identifier, the nature of an object) elements. Typical examples of problems are for instance:

Geometrical placement problems where one has to place in space a set of objects subject to various geometrical constraints (i.e., nonoverlapping, distance). In this context, even if the positions of the objects are continuous, the structure of optimal configurations has a discrete nature.

Trajectory and mission planning problems where one has to plan and synchronize the moves of several teams in order to achieve some common goal (i.e., fire fighting, coordination of search in the context of rescue missions, surveillance missions of restricted or large areas).

Localization problems in mobile robotic where a robot has to plan alone (only with its own sensors) its trajectory. This kind of problematic occurs in situations where the GPS cannot be used (e.g., under water or Mars exploration) or when it is not precise enough (e.g., indoor surveillance, observation of contaminated sites).
Beside numerical constraints that mix continuous and integer variables we also have global constraints that involve both type of variables. They typically correspond to graph problems (i.e., graph colouring, domination in a graph) where a graph is dynamically constructed with respect to geometrical andor temporal constraints. In this context, the key challenge is avoiding decomposing the problem in a discrete and continuous parts as it is traditionally the case. As an illustrative example consider the wireless network deployment problem. On the one hand, the continuous part consists of finding out where to place a set of antenna subject to various geometrical constraints. On the other hand, by building an interference graph from the positions of the antenna, the discrete part consists of allocating frequencies to antenna in order to avoid interference. In the context of convergence between discrete and continuous variables, our goals are:

First to identify and compare typical class of techniques that are used in the context of continuous and discrete solvers.

To see how one can unify and/or generalize these techniques in order to handle in an integrated way continuous and discrete constraints within the same framework.
Dynamic, Interactive and over Constrained Problems
Some industrial applications are defined by a set of constraints which may change over time, for instance due to an interaction with the user. Many other industrial applications are overconstrained, that is, they are defined by set of constraints which are more or less important and cannot be all satisfied at the same time. Generic, dedicated and explanationbased techniques can be used to deal efficiently with such applications. Especially, these applications rely on the notion of soft constraints that are allowed to be (partially) violated. The generic concept that captures a wide variety of soft constraints is the violation measure, which is coupled with specific resolution techniques. Lastly, soft constraints allow to combine the expressive power of global constraints with local search frameworks.
Solvers

Discrete solver Our theoretical work is systematically validated by concrete experimentations. We have in particular for that purpose the CHOCO constraint platform. The team develops and maintains CHOCO initially with the assistance of the laboratory elab of Bouygues (G. Rochart), the company Amadeus (F. Laburthe), and others researchers such as H. Cambazard (4C , INP Grenoble ). Since 2008 the main developments are done by Charles Prud'homme and Xavier Lorca . The functionalities of CHOCO are gradually extended with the outcomes of our works: design of constraints, analysis and visualization of explanations, etc. The open source CHOCO library is downloaded on average 450 times each month since 2006. CHOCO is developed in line with the research direction of the team, in an openminded scientific spirit. Contrarily to other solvers where the efficiency often relies on problemspecific algorithms, CHOCO aims at providing the users both with reusable techniques (based on an uptodate implementation of the global constraint catalogue ) and with a variety of tools to ease the use of these techniques (clear separation between model and resolution, eventbased solver, management of the overconstrained problems, explanations, etc.).

Continuous solver Since 2009 year, due to the hiring of Gilles Chabert , the team is also involved in the development of the continuous constraint solver IBEX . These developments led us to new research topics, suitable for the implementation of discrete and continuous constraint solving systems: portability of the constraints, management of explanations, incrementality and recalculation. They partially use aspect programming (in collaboration with the Inria ASCOLA team).

Constraint programming and verification Constraint Programming has already had several applications to verification problems. It also has many common ideas with Abstract Interpretation, a theory of approximation of the semantics of programs. In both cases, we are interested in a particular set (solutions in CP, program traces in semantics), which is hard or impossible to compute, and this set is replaced by an overapproximation (consistent domains / abstract domains). Previous works (internship of Julie Laniau, PhD of Marie Pelleau , collaboration with the Abstract Interpretation team at the ENS and Antoine Miné in particular) have exhibited some of these links, and identified some situations where the two fields, Abstract Interpretation and Constraint Programming, can complement each other. It is the case in realtime stream processing languages, where Abstract Interpretation techniques may not be precise enough when analyzing loops. With the PhD of Anicet Bart , we are currently working on using CP techniques to find loop invariants for the Faust language , a functional sound processing language.
This work around the design and the development of solvers thus forms the fourth direction of basic research of the project.