Deep Reinforcement Learning for Crowdsourced Urban Delivery: System States Characterization, Heuristics-guided Action Choice, and Rule-Interposing Integration

Tanvir Ahamed, Bo Zou, Nahid Parvez Farazi, Theja Tulabandhula

This paper investigates the problem of assigning shipping requests to ad hoc couriers in the context of crowdsourced urban delivery. The shipping requests are spatially distributed each with a limited time window between the earliest time for pickup and latest time for delivery. The ad hoc couriers, termed crowdsourcees, also have limited time availability and carrying capacity. We propose a new deep reinforcement learning (DRL)-based approach to tackling this assignment problem. A deep Q network (DQN) algorithm is trained which entails two salient features of experience replay and target network that enhance the efficiency, convergence, and stability of DRL training. More importantly, this paper makes three methodological contributions: 1) presenting a comprehensive and novel characterization of crowdshipping system states that encompasses spatial-temporal and capacity information of crowdsourcees and requests; 2) embedding heuristics that leverage the information offered by the state representation and are based on intuitive reasoning to guide specific actions to take, to preserve tractability and enhance efficiency of training; and 3) integrating rule-interposing to prevent repeated visiting of the same routes and node sequences during routing improvement, thereby further enhancing the training efficiency by accelerating learning. The effectiveness of the proposed approach is demonstrated through extensive numerical analysis. The results show the benefits brought by the heuristics-guided action choice and rule-interposing in DRL training, and the superiority of the proposed approach over existing heuristics in both solution quality, time, and scalability. Besides the potential to improve the efficiency of crowdshipping operation planning, the proposed approach also provides a new avenue and generic framework for other problems in the vehicle routing context.

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