Terraforming -- Environment Manipulation during Disruptions for Multi-Agent Pickup and Delivery

David Vainshtein, Yaakov Sherma, Kiril Solovey, Oren Salzman

In automated warehouses, teams of mobile robots fulfill the packaging process by transferring inventory pods to designated workstations while navigating narrow aisles formed by tightly packed pods. This problem is typically modeled as a Multi-Agent Pickup and Delivery (MAPD) problem, which is then solved by repeatedly planning collision-free paths for agents on a fixed graph, as in the Rolling-Horizon Collision Resolution (RHCR) algorithm. However, existing approaches make the limiting assumption that agents are only allowed to move pods that correspond to their current task, while considering the other pods as stationary obstacles (even though all pods are movable). This behavior can result in unnecessarily long paths which could otherwise be avoided by opening additional corridors via pod manipulation. To this end, we explore the implications of allowing agents the flexibility of dynamically relocating pods. We call this new problem Terraforming MAPD (tMAPD) and develop an RHCR-based approach to tackle it. As the extra flexibility of terraforming comes at a significant computational cost, we utilize this capability judiciously by identifying situations where it could make a significant impact on the solution quality. In particular, we invoke terraforming in response to disruptions that often occur in automated warehouses, e.g., when an item is dropped from a pod or when agents malfunction. Empirically, using our approach for tMAPD, where disruptions are modeled via a stochastic process, we improve throughput by over 10%, reduce the maximum service time (the difference between the drop-off time and the pickup time of a pod) by more than 50%, without drastically increasing the runtime, compared to the MAPD setting.

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