The latest planners based on SAT rival (and exceed) the performance of planners based on other search paradigms. Additionally, this level of performance is obtained almost completely by general purpose SAT solving algorithms, without the need for the kind of specialized techniques used in connection with the recent state-space search planners (such as algorithm/heuristic portfolios, incomplete search algorithms, recognition of "multi-valued" structure from standard Boolean representations, macros and other non-systematic ways of introducing short-cuts in the state space graph, techniques targeting specific benchmark domains e.g. goal-agendas, and so on and on).
Almost all of earlier research has used parallel plans based on the notion of interference: two actions are allowed to take place in parallel when they do not interfere. A sometimes dramatically more efficient planning is obtained with a more relaxed notion of plans, called ∃-step semantics, uses a more relaxed asymmetric notion of interference, which allows parallelization of actions in many cases where the no-interference condition is not satisfied. A further elaboration of the ∃-step semantics (for the more restricted class of STRIPS problems) is reported in a paper by Wehrle and Rintanen, Planning as satisfiability with relaxed ∃-step plans, where the conditions on parallel actions are further relaxed, in some cases leading to further performance improvements. These two ∃-step encodings are the fastest encodings in existence.
|plan type||description||references for encodings|
|sequential||exactly one (or at most one) action per time point||Kautz & Selman 1992; Kautz & Selman 1996 (factored encodings); Ernst et al. 1997 (factored encodings)|
|∀-step plans ("GraphPlan parallelism")||A set of actions can be simultaneous if they are pairwise independent (more relaxed definition: can be executed in any order).||Kautz & Selman 1996 papers (original work); Rintanen et al. 2006 (compact and linear-size encodings); Robinson et al. 2009 (factored encodings)|
|∃-step plans||A set of actions can be simultaneous if they can be totally ordered so that an earlier action does not disable a later action or change its (conditional) effects (more relaxed definition: can be executed in at least one order).||Dimopoulos et al. 1997 (original idea); Rintanen et al. 2004/2006 (analysis, encodings (linear-size)); Ogata et al. 2004; Wehrle & Rintanen 2007|
The smallest and generally most efficient encodings have an asymptotically optimal linear size, (which strongly contrasts with the quadratic size all the early encodings from the 1990s, and some of the recent implementations, have). Further improvements, also for asymptotically optimal encodings, can be obtained by finding regularities which can be represented more compactly, most notably in the form of cliques and bicliques in constraint graphs formed by binary clauses (Rintanen 2006).
Many implementations, including BLACKBOX and its successors, use ∀-step plans, corresponding to GraphPlan's notion of parallel plans. These planners map (most of) the contents of the planning graphs to a SAT problem. The extremely large size of the planning graphs, and especially their high number of action mutexes, is the main reason for the extremely large size of the encodings these planners use. These encodings can be substantially improved by eliminating unnecessary action mutexes (Rintanen et al. 2006; Sideris & Dimopoulos, 2010).
It is sometimes believed that ∀-step plans represent "real" parallelism, and this is used as a justification when focusing on "optimal" (minimal horizon length) ∀-step plans. This idea, however, is wrong. Minimal horizon length ∀-step plans don't in general have anything to do with any practically interesting optimality criterion (e.g. minimum cost, minimum makespan). In particular, the definition of ∀-step plans does not guarantee that two actions that take place in the same step can actually be taken in parallel, or that two actions that interfere could not in reality be taken in parallel. Further, in those cases in which the problem modeling has guaranteed that the parallelism reflects reality (which could just as well be achieved with any other definition of parallel plans), usually the action durations vary so much that the minimal number of steps does not have much to do with minimal makespan: all the actions would have to have exactly the same duration for this to work (a condition rarely fulfilled.) For these reasons optimality interpreted as minimum horizon length is a rather uninteresting property of ∀-step plans.
|sequential||Solve SAT problems sequentially one at a time for horizon lengths 1, 2, 3, 4, ... until a plan is found.||Kautz & Selman 1992|
|algorithm A||Start n SAT solvers simultaneously, solving the planning problem for horizon lengths 1,2,3,4,...,n. If a formula is found satisfiable, we have a plan, and terminate. If a formula is found unsatisfiable, start a solver for the shortest plan length not solved yet (first n+1, then n+2, n+3, and so on) so that there are always n SAT instances being solved.||Rintanen 2004; Rintanen et al. 2006|
|algorithm B||Solve horizon lengths 1,2,3,... in parallel, assigning to the SAT solver with horizon length t CPU time g times that of horizon length t-1, for some constant g<1. That is, the rate at which SAT problems are solved form a decreasing geometric sequence. Some finite bound is used for the number of SAT solvers run at any given moment (as determined by available memory.)||Rintanen 2004; Rintanen et al. 2006|
|algorithm C||Solve horizon lengths 1,2,4,8,16,... in parallel, up to some finite length (some hundreds or thousands), with the same amount of CPU assigned to each horizon length. This strategy works surprisingly well, and does not rely on the implicit assumption that the horizon lengths are short.||Rintanen 2012 (unpublished)|
Other algorithms have been used, but they either don't lead to substantial runtime improvements (e.g. at most a small multiplicative factor like 2) and/or rely on the availability of plan length upper bounds which are not (efficiently) available. Algorithms A and B trade the possibility of a constant factor slow-down to a potentially arbitrarily high speed-up. Algorithm C does not have any practical performance guarantees w.r.t. A or B or the sequential strategy, but for problems with very long plans it is sometimes much better than A and B.
A requirement for the use of the efficient parallel search strategies is the compactness of the SAT encodings, a condition not fulfilled e.g. by BLACKBOX and its successors.
With the new heuristics, plans for many instances of standard benchmarks are found without backtracking (Airport, DriverLog, Gripper (all), Logistics (almost all), MPrime, Mystery, ParcPrinter, PSR, Rover, Satellite, Scanalyzer, Storage, Woodworking, ZenoTravel). Some of the instances with no or little backtracking (< 10 leaf nodes in the search tree) are not solved by the competition (= heuristic state-space search planners) in a reasonable amount of time (they cannot find plans in 5 minutes, and in some cases we have verified that no plans are found in 8 hours.)
(See also more diagrams, and data for each IPC domain.) The curve for FF's 2nd phase (FF-2) is a good approximation for Bonet & Geffner's original HSP planner's hypothetical extension to handle non-STRIPS problems with conditional effects.
The planning competition benchmarks are in general quite favorable to planners that use explicit state space search (which were mostly developed by the planning competition community in tandem with the benchmark set), in comparison to other types of planning problems. Porco et al. (ICAPS'11) have translated graph problems to planning, and the picture from those results is quite a bit different. Here, general-purpose SAT solvers fare best (see more detailed discussion in the Porco et al. ICAPS'11 paper), followed by SAT with planning-specific heuristics.
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J. Rintanen. Planning with specialized SAT solvers. In Proceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, AAAI Press, pages 1563-1566, 2011. (© 2011 American Association for Artificial Intelligence. AAAI) (slides)
J. Rintanen. Planning with SAT, admissible heuristics and A*. In Proceedings of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, AAAI Press, pages 2015-2020, 2011. (© 2011 American Association for Artificial Intelligence. AAAI)
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