For almost two decades, monotonic, or ``delete free,'' relaxation has been one of the key auxiliary tools in the practice of domain-independent deterministic planning. In the particular contexts of both satisficing and optimal planning, it underlies most state-of-the-art heuristic functions. While satisficing planning for monotonic tasks is polynomial-time, optimal planning for monotonic tasks is NP-equivalent. Here we establish both negative and positive results on the complexity of some wide fragments of optimal monotonic planning, with the fragments being defined around the causal graph topology. Our results shed some light on the link between the complexity of general optimal planning and the complexity of optimal planning for the respective monotonic relaxations.
Causal graphs are widely used to analyze the complexity of planning problems. Many tractable classes have been identified with their aid and state-of-the-art heuristics have been derived by exploiting such classes. In particular, Katz and Keyder have studied causal graphs that are hourglasses (which is a generalization of forks and inverted-forks) and shown that the corresponding cost-optimal planning problem is tractable under certain restrictions. We continue this work by studying polytrees (which is a generalization of hourglasses) under similar restrictions. We prove tractability of cost-optimal planning by providing an algorithm based on a novel notion of variable isomorphism. Our algorithm also sheds light on the k-consistency procedure for identifying unsolvable planning instances. We speculate that this may, at least partially, explain why merge-and-shrink heuristics have been successful for recognizing unsolvable instances.
The ignoring delete lists relaxation is of paramount importance for both satisficing and optimal planning. In earlier work, it was observed that the optimal relaxation heuristic h+ has amazing qualities in many classical planning benchmarks, in particular pertaining to the complete absence of local minima. The proofs of this are hand-made, raising the question whether such proofs can be lead automatically by domain analysis techniques. In contrast to earlier disappointing results -- the analysis method has exponential runtime and succeeds only in two extremely simple benchmark domains -- we herein answer this question in the affirmative. We establish connections between causal graph structure and h+ topology. This results in low-order polynomial time analysis methods, implemented in a tool we call TorchLight. Of the 12 domains where the absence of local minima has been proved, TorchLight gives strong success guarantees in 8 domains. Empirically, its analysis exhibits strong performance in a further 2 of these domains, plus in 4 more domains where local minima may exist but are rare. In this way, TorchLight can distinguish ``easy'' domains from ``hard'' ones. By summarizing structural reasons for analysis failure, TorchLight also provides diagnostic output indicating domain aspects that may cause local minima.
Fast Downward is a classical planning system based on heuristic search. It can deal with general deterministic planning problems encoded in the propositional fragment of PDDL2.2, including advanced features like ADL conditions and effects and derived predicates (axioms). Like other well-known planners such as HSP and FF, Fast Downward is a progression planner, searching the space of world states of a planning task in the forward direction. However, unlike other PDDL planning systems, Fast Downward does not use the propositional PDDL representation of a planning task directly. Instead, the input is first translated into an alternative representation called multi-valued planning tasks, which makes many of the implicit constraints of a propositional planning task explicit. Exploiting this alternative representation, Fast Downward uses hierarchical decompositions of planning tasks for computing its heuristic function, called the causal graph heuristic, which is very different from traditional HSP-like heuristics based on ignoring negative interactions of operators. In this article, we give a full account of Fast Downward's approach to solving multi-valued planning tasks. We extend our earlier discussion of the causal graph heuristic to tasks involving axioms and conditional effects and present some novel techniques for search control that are used within Fast Downward's best-first search algorithm: preferred operators transfer the idea of helpful actions from local search to global best-first search, deferred evaluation of heuristic functions mitigates the negative effect of large branching factors on search performance, and multi-heuristic best-first search combines several heuristic evaluation functions within a single search algorithm in an orthogonal way. We also describe efficient data structures for fast state expansion (successor generators and axiom evaluators) and present a new non-heuristic search algorithm called focused iterative-broadening search, which utilizes the information encoded in causal graphs in a novel way. Fast Downward has proven remarkably successful: It won the "classical'' (i.e., propositional, non-optimising) track of the 4th International Planning Competition at ICAPS 2004, following in the footsteps of planners such as FF and LPG. Our experiments show that it also performs very well on the benchmarks of the earlier planning competitions and provide some insights about the usefulness of the new search enhancements.
Between 1998 and 2004, the planning community has seen vast progress in terms of the sizes of benchmark examples that domain-independent planners can tackle successfully. The key technique behind this progress is the use of heuristic functions based on relaxing the planning task at hand, where the relaxation is to assume that all delete lists are empty. The unprecedented success of such methods, in many commonly used benchmark examples, calls for an understanding of what classes of domains these methods are well suited for. In the investigation at hand, we derive a formal background to such an understanding. We perform a case study covering a range of 30 commonly used STRIPS and ADL benchmark domains, including all examples used in the first four international planning competitions. We *prove* connections between domain structure and local search topology -- heuristic cost surface properties -- under an idealized version of the heuristic functions used in modern planners. The idealized heuristic function is called h^+, and differs from the practically used functions in that it returns the length of an *optimal* relaxed plan, which is NP-hard to compute. We identify several key characteristics of the topology under h^+, concerning the existence/non-existence of unrecognized dead ends, as well as the existence/non-existence of constant upper bounds on the difficulty of escaping local minima and benches. These distinctions divide the (set of all) planning domains into a taxonomy of classes of varying h^+ topology. As it turns out, many of the 30 investigated domains lie in classes with a relatively easy topology. Most particularly, 12 of the domains lie in classes where FFs search algorithm, provided with h^+, is a polynomial solving mechanism. We also present results relating h^+ to its approximation as implemented in FF. The behavior regarding dead ends is provably the same. We summarize the results of an empirical investigation showing that, in many domains, the topological qualities of h^+ are largely inherited by the approximation. The overall investigation gives a rare example of a successful analysis of the connections between typical-case problem structure, and search performance. The theoretical investigation also gives hints on how the topological phenomena might be automatically recognizable by domain analysis techniques. We outline some preliminary steps we made into that direction.