Adapting a Hyper-heuristic to Respond to Scalability Issues in Combinatorial Optimisation

Author: Marshall, Richard J.

Date: 2015

Publisher: Victoria University of Wellington

Type: Scholarly text, Master's

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Victoria University of Wellington


The development of a heuristic to solve an optimisation problem in a new domain, or a specific variation of an existing problem domain, is often beyond the means of many smaller businesses. This is largely due to the task normally needing to be assigned to a human expert, and such experts tend to be scarce and expensive. One of the aims of hyper-heuristic research is to automate all or part of the heuristic development process and thereby bring the generation of new heuristics within the means of more organisations. A second aim of hyper-heuristic research is to ensure that the process by which a domain specific heuristic is developed is itself independent of the problem domain. This enables a hyper-heuristic to exist and operate above the combinatorial optimisation problem “domain barrier” and generalise across different problem domains. A common issue with heuristic development is that a heuristic is often designed or evolved using small size problem instances and then assumed to perform well on larger problem instances. The goal of this thesis is to extend current hyper-heuristic research towards answering the question: How can a hyper-heuristic efficiently and effectively adapt the selection, generation and manipulation of domain specific heuristics as you move from small size and/or narrow domain problems to larger size and/or wider domain problems? In other words, how can different hyperheuristics respond to scalability issues? Each hyper-heuristic has its own strengths and weaknesses. In the context of hyper-heuristic research, this thesis contributes towards understanding scalability issues by firstly developing a compact and effective heuristic that can be applied to other problem instances of differing sizes in a compatible problem domain. We construct a hyper-heuristic for the Capacitated Vehicle Routing Problem domain to establish whether a heuristic for a specific problem domain can be developed which is compact and easy to interpret. The results show that generation of a simple but effective heuristic is possible. Secondly we develop two different types of hyper-heuristic and compare their performance across different combinatorial optimisation problem domains. We construct and compare simplified versions of two existing hyper-heuristics (adaptive and grammar-based), and analyse how each handles the trade-off between computation speed and quality of the solution. The performance of the two hyper-heuristics are tested on seven different problem domains compatible with the HyFlex (Hyper-heuristic Flexible) framework. The results indicate that the adaptive hyper-heuristic is able to deliver solutions of a pre-defined quality in a shorter computational time than the grammar-based hyper-heuristic. Thirdly we investigate how the adaptive hyper-heuristic developed in the second stage of this thesis can respond to problem instances of the same size, but containing different features and complexity. We investigate how, with minimal knowledge about the problem domain and features of the instance being worked on, a hyper-heuristic can modify its processes to respond to problem instances containing different features and problem domains of different complexity. In this stage we allow the adaptive hyper-heuristic to select alternative vectors for the selection of problem domain operators, and acceptance criteria used to determine whether solutions should be retained or discarded. We identify a consistent difference between the best performing pairings of selection vector and acceptance criteria, and those pairings which perform poorly. This thesis shows that hyper-heuristics can respond to scalability issues, although not all do so with equal ease. The flexibility of an adaptive hyper-heuristic enables it to perform faster than the more rigid grammar-based hyper-heuristic, but at the expense of losing a reusable heuristic.

Subjects: Hyper-heuristic, Scalability, Combinatorial optimisation