Resolving Over-Constrained Temporal Problems with Uncertainty through Conflict-Directed Relaxation

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Over-subscription, that is, being assigned too many things to do, is commonly encountered in temporal scheduling problems. As human beings, we often want to do more than we can actually do, and underestimate how long it takes to perform each task. Decision makers can benefit from aids that identify when these failure situations are likely, the root causes of these failures, and resolutions to these failures.

In this paper, we present a decision assistant that helps users resolve over-subscribed temporal problems. The system works like an experienced advisor that can quickly identify the cause of failure underlying temporal problems and compute resolutions. The core of the decision assistant is the Best-first Conflict-Directed Relaxation (BCDR) algorithm, which can detect conflicting sets of constraints within temporal problems, and computes continuous relaxations for them that weaken constraints to the minimum extent, instead of removing them completely. BCDR is an extension to the Conflict-Directed A* algorithm, first developed in the model-based reasoning community to compute most likely system diagnoses or reconfigurations. It generalizes the discrete conflicts and relaxations, to hybrid conflicts and relaxations, which denote minimal inconsistencies and minimal relaxations to both discrete and continuous relaxable constraints. In addition, BCDR is capable of handling temporal uncertainty, expressed as either set-bounded or probabilistic durations, and can compute preferred trade-offs between the risk of violating a schedule requirement, versus the loss of utility by weakening those requirements.

BCDR has been applied to several decision support applications in different domains, including deep-sea exploration, urban travel planning and transit system management. It has demonstrated its effectiveness in helping users resolve over-subscribed scheduling problems and evaluate the robustness of existing solutions. In our benchmark experiments, BCDR has also demonstrated its efficiency on solving large-scale scheduling problems in the aforementioned domains. Thanks to its conflict-driven approach for computing relaxations, BCDR achieves one to two orders of magnitude improvements on runtime performance when compared to state-of-the-art numerical solvers.

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