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Ant Colony Optimization - A Novel Approach to Solve NP-Hard Problems

Many of numerous species of insects that

live in colonies manifest group integration
and division of labour. Swarm intelligence
are typically made up of a population of
Keywords: Ant colony, Swarm, TSP simple agents interacting locally with one
another and with their environment.
Although there is normally no centralized
control structure dictating how individual
The complex social behaviours of ants have
agents should behave, local interactions
been much studied, and computer scientists
between such agents often lead to the
are now finding that these behaviour patterns
emergence of global behaviour.
can provide models for solving difficult
The rest of the paper is divided as follows:
combinatorial optimization problems. The
Sections 1.2 and 1.3 discuss the Ant
attempt to develop algorithms inspired by
Colony and other Social Insect Behaviour
one aspect of ant behavior, the ability to find
approaches. Section 2 gives a theoretical
shortest paths, has become the field of ant
overview and an example of ACO. Variants
colony optimization (ACO). The ant colony
of ACO are briefly explained in Section 3.
optimization algorithm (ACO), introduced by
In Section 4, the application aspects of
Marco Dorigo, in the year 1992, is a
ACO to real world problems is discussed
probabilistic technique for solving
with emphasis on the TSP. The next section
computational problems which can be
gives the merits and demerits of ACO.
reduced to finding good paths through
Finally the conclusion and references are
graphs. This paper presents an overview of
this rapidly growing field, from its
theoretical inception to practical
1.2 Ant Colonies
applications, including descriptions of many
available ACO algorithms and their various Ant Communication is accomplished
applications to solve NP-Hard Problems. In primarily through chemicals called
this paper, we also discuss the Travelling pheromones. Ants communicate to one
Salesman Problem. another by laying down pheromones along
their trails. Other ants perceive the presence
1. Introduction. of pheromone and tend to follow paths
1.1 Behaviour of Social Animals where pheromone concentration is higher.
Over time, however, the pheromone trail
Insects are the most diverse group of starts to evaporate, thus reducing its
animals on the earth. Many insects possess attractive strength. The more time it takes
very sensitive organs of perception. for an ant to travel down the path and back
perception. Swarm Intelligence(SI) is an again, the more time the pheromones have
artificial technique based on the study of to evaporate. A short path gets marched
collective, self-organized systems. SI systems over faster, and thus the pheromone density
remains high as it is laid on the path as fast
as it can evaporate.
The distinctive behaviour of ants has been
extensively studied and has inspired a
number of methods and techniques among
which the most successful is the general
purpose optimization technique known as
Ant Colony Optimization (ACO). ACO
exploits a similar mechanism similar to that
of the foraging behaviour of some ant
species. From the early nineties, when the
first ant colony optimization algorithm was
first proposed, ACO attracted the attention
Figure 1:Ant Behaviour of increasing numbers of researchers and
A. Ants in a pheromone trail between nest and food; many successful applications are now
B. An obstacle interrupts the trail; C. Ants find two available. Moreover, a substantial corpus of
paths to go around the obstacle; D. A new pheromone theoretical results is becoming available
trail is formed along the shorter path.
that provides useful guidelines to
researchers and practitioners in further
Pheromone evaporation has also the
applications of ACO
advantage of avoiding the convergence to a
locally optimal solution. If there were no
evaporation at all, the paths chosen by the 2.2 Characteristics of ACO
first ants would tend to be excessively
Stigmergy is a method of communication
attractive to the following ones. In that case,
in systems in which the individual parts of
the exploration of the solution space would
the system communicate with one another
be constrained. Thus, when one ant finds a
by modifying their local environment. The
good path to a food source, other ants are
two main characteristics of stigmergy that
more likely to follow that path, and positive
differentiate it from other forms of
feedback eventually leaves all the ants
communication are:
following a single path. Figure 1 describes
(i) Stigmergy is an indirect, non-
this ant behaviour.
symbolic form of communication
mediated by the environment:
1.3 Other Social Insects for insects exchange information by
Optimization modifying the environment; and
(ii) Stigmergic information is local: it
Examples of other optimisation systems can only be accessed by those
which can be found in nature include bird insects that visit the locus in which
flocking, animal herding, bacteria moulding it was released (or its immediate
and fish schooling, pedestrians, traffic. The neighbourhood)
beauty of the entire phenomenon lies in the
seemingly intelligent group behaviour that 2.3 The Double Bridge Experiment
emerges from multiple individual animals.
Deneubourg et al. thoroughly investigated
2. Ant Colony Optimization. the behaviour of ants. In an experiment
known as the “double bridge
2.1 The Theory of Ant Colonies experiment”( Figure 2) the nest of a
colony of Argentine ants was connected to
a food source by two bridges of equal plays an important role: the ants choosing
lengths. In such a setting, ants start to by chance the short bridge are the first to
explore the surroundings of the nest and reach the nest. The short bridge, therefore,
eventually reach the food source. Along their receives pheromone earlier than the long
paths, the ants deposit pheromone. Initially, one and this fact increases the probability
each ant randomly chooses one of the two that further ants select it rather than the
bridges. However, due to random long one. A model of this observed
fluctuations, after some time, one of the two behaviour was developed.
bridges presents a higher concentration of
pheromones than the other and , thus, attracts 2.4 ACO Procedure - Pseudo
more ants. This brings a further amount of Algorithm
pheromone on that bridge making it more
attractive with the result that after some time The ACO pseudo-algorithm is shown
the whole colony converges towards the use below. After initialization, the algorithm
of the same bridge. iterates over three phases: at each iteration,
This colony–level behaviour based on a number of solutions are constructed by
autocatalysis , that is , on the exploitation of the ants; these solutions are then improved
positive feedback , can be used by ants to through a local search (this step is
find the shortest path between a food source optional), and finally the pheromone is
and their nests. A variant of the “double updated.
bridge experiment”, in which one bridge is
significantly longer than the other was 1. (Initialization)
considered. In this case, the stochastic Set parameters, initialize pheromone
fluctuations in the initial choice of a bridge trails.
are much reduced and a second mechanism. Initialize τιψ, for each ι,ψ
2. (Construction of AntSolution)
For each ant k do
Compute ηιψ for each ι,ψ.
Choose in probability the state to
move into
Append the chosen move to move
the kth ant’s set tabu.
Until ant k has completed its
[apply a local search(optional)]
3. (Pheromone Trail Update)
For each ant move ( ι,ψ) do
Compute ∆τιψ and update the trail
Figure 2: Experimental Setup for the 4. (Terminating condition)
double bridge experiment (a) branches have If not (end_condition) go to step-2.
equal lengths;(b) branches have different lengths.
3. Variants of the ACO Algorithm.
Different ant colony optimization algorithms can be useful for quickly
algorithms have been proposed .The original finding high quality solution. Other
ACO algorithm is known as Ant System and popular applications are to dynamic
was proposed in the early nineties. It’s main shortest path problems arising in
characteristic is that at each iteration, the telecommunication networks problems.
pheromone values are updated by all the ants The number of successful applications to
that have built a solution in the iteration academic problems has motivated people
itself. to adopt ACO for the solution of industrial
Since then a number of other ACO problems, proving that this computation of
algorithms, variants of the original Ant intelligence technique is also useful in real
System, were presented, of which the two world applications.
most successful algorithms were MAXMIN
and Ant Colony system (ACS). 4.1 Application to
MAXMIN is an improvement over the telecommunication networks
original AntSystem. Its characterizing
elements are that only the best ant updates ACO algorithms have shown to be a very
the pheromone trails and that the value of the effective approach for routing problems in
pheromone is bound. telecommunication networks where the
The most interesting contribution of ACS is properties of the system, such as the cost of
the introduction of a local pheromone update using links or the availability of the nodes,
in addition to the pheromone update vary over time. ACO algorithms were first
performed at the end of the construction applied to routing problems in circuit-
process. The local update done diversifies switched networks (such as telephone
the search performed by subsequent ants networks) and then in packet-switched
during an iteration: by decreasing the networks (such as local area networks or
pheromone concentration on the traversed the internet). A well known example is
edges, ants encourage subsequent ants to AntNet which has been extensively tested,
choose other edges an, hence, to produce in simulation, on different networks and
different solutions. This makes it less likely under different traffic patterns, proving to
that several ants produce identical solutions be highly adaptable and robust. A
during one iteration. comparison with state-of-the-art routing
algorithms has shown that, in most of the
4. Applications of ACO in NP-Hard considered situations, AntNet outperforms
Problems. its competitors.
In recent years, the interest of the scientific Ant-based algorithms have given rise to
community in ACO has risen sharply. In several other routing algorithms, enhancing
fact, several successful applications of ACO performance in a variety of wired network
to a wide range of different discrete scenarios.
optimization problems are now available.
The large majority of these applications are 4.2 Application to Industrial
to NP-Hard problems; that is, to problems Problems
for which the best known algorithms that
guarantee to identify an optimal solution The success of ACO on academic
have exponential time worst case problems has raised the attention of a
complexity. The use of such algorithms is number of companies that have started to
often infeasible in practice, and ACO sue ACO algorithms for real-world
applications. They have applied ACO to a according to a stochastic mechanism that is
number of scheduling problems such as a biased by the pheromone: when in vertex i,
continuous two-stage flow shop problem the following vertex is selected
with finite reservoirs. The problems modeled stochastically
included various real world constraints such among the previously unvisited ones. In
as setup times, capacity restrictions, resource particular, if j has not been previously
compatibilities and maintenance calendars. visited, it can be selected with a probability
Some researchers have developed a set of that is proportional to the pheromone
tools for the solution of vehicle-routing associated with the edge (i,j). At the end of
problems whose optimization algorithms are the iteration, on the basis of the quality of
based on ACO. Examples of companies who the solution constructed by the ants, the
have successfully used ACO are EuroBios, pheromone values are modified in order to
AntOptima, DYVOIL, AntRoute, Migros bias ants in future iterations to construct
(the main Swiss supermarket chain) and solutions similar to the best ones previously
Barilla (the main Italian pasta maker). constructed. In Figure 3, ACO-TSP is
4.3 Conventional ACO for the
Travelling Salesman Problem
The traveling salesman problem (TSP) is a
problem in discrete or combinatorial
optimization. It is a prominent illustration of
a class of problems in computational
complexity theory which are hard to solve.
The problem states that : Given a number of
cities and the costs of traveling from any city
to any other city, what is the cheapest round-
trip route that visits each city exactly once
and then returns to the starting city?
In ant colony optimization, the problem is Figure 3 :An ant in city i chooses the next city to
tackled by simulating a number of artificial visit via a stochastic mechanism: If j has not been
ants moving on a graph that encodes the previously visited, it can be selected with a
probability that is proportional to the pheromone
problem itself: each vertex represents a city
associated with edge (i.j).
and each edge represents a connection
between two cities. A variable called Many of the tackled NP-Hard problems can
pheromone is associated with each edge and be considered as falling into one of the
can be read and modified by ants. Ant colony following categories: routing problems as
optimization is an iterative algorithm. At they arise for example in the distribution of
each iteration , a number of artificial ants are goods; assignment problems, where a set of
considered. Each of them builds a solution by items (objects, activities etc.) has to be
walking from vertex to vertex on the graph assigned to a given number of
with the constraint of not visiting any vertex resources(location, agents etc.)subject to
that she has already visited in her walk. At some constraints; scheduling problems ,
each step of the solution construction, an ant which –in the widest sense- concerned with
selects the following vertex to be visited the allocation of scare resources to tasks
over time; and subset problems , where a successful applications have changed our
solution to a problem is considered to be a perspective: what seemed a far-out idea is
selection of a subset of available items. In now considered one of the most promising
addition, ACO has been successfully applied approaches to the approximate solution of
to other problems emerging in fields such as difficult optimization problems.
machine learning and bioinformatics. This paper is a brief write-up of the ideas
and inspirations behind ACO. The
5. The Merits and Demerits of ACO. effectiveness of ACO is justified by the
variety of applications of ACO. This being
Some of the inherent advantages of ACO an emerging field of the Swarm
algorithms are as follows : Intelligence area, much more exploration
• The Positive Feedback in ACO and experimentation can be done in future.
accounts for rapid discovery of good
solutions 7. References
• ACO employs Distributed
computation, which avoids premature [1] Marco Dorigo, Mauro Birattari, and
convergence. Thomas Stiitzli, “Ant Colony Optimization:
• The greedy heuristic used in ACO Artificial Ants as a Computational Intelligence
helps find an acceptable solution in Technique”, IEEE Transaction on
the early solution in the early stages Evolutionary Computation, November 2006,
of the search process. pp. 28-36.
Some of the disadvantages in ACO
[2] J.-L.Deneubourg, S.Aron, S.Goss, and J.-
algorithms are: M.Pasteels, “The Self Organizing Exploratory
• These algorithms have slower Pattern of the Argentine Ant”, Journal of Insect
convergence than other Heuristics. Behaviour, Vol.3, p.159, 1990.
• They performed poorly for TSP
problems larger than 75 cities. [3] Official website of the Ant Colony
• There is no centralized processor to Metaheuristic:
guide the Ant System towards good
solutions. [4] Other Related links:
6. Conclusion

Ant Colony Optimization has been and

continues to be a fruitful paradigm for
designing effective combinatorial
optimization solution algorithms. After more
than ten years of studies, both its application
effectiveness and its theoretical groundings
have been demonstrated, making ACO one of
the most successful paradigm in the
metaheuristic area.
Fifteen years ago, when the first ACO
algorithm was introduced, taking inspiration
from ants for designing optimization
algorithms seemed a crazy idea. The many