BRouter: routing algorithm: 2-pass routing with adaptive cost-cutoff

There's not so much to say about the routing algorithm, because the basic ideas like Dijkstra's algorithm or the A-Star algorithm are well documented.

Since Dijkstra uses only the path-cost-function g(x), while A-Star add's the remaining air-distance to the destination as a "future-cost-function" h(x), you can consider both algorithms to be equivalent if you introduce a "heuristic coefficient" c:

cost-function = g(x) + c*h(x)

It is known that you get a correct result if c is in the range 0..1, and if g(x) and h(x) satisfy some conditions.

For c > 1 you do not get a correct result. However, if c is larger than the average ratio of the path cost-function g(x) and the air-distance, you get a quick heuristic search which is heading towards the destination with a processing time that scales linear with distance, not quadratic as for a correct (c<1) search.

BRouter uses a 2-pass algorithm as a mixed approach with e.g. c=1.5 for the first pass and c=0 for the second pass. The trick here is that the second pass can use a cost-cutoff from the maximum-cost-estimate that the first pass delivers to limit the search area, because any path with a remaining air-distance larger than the difference of the current cost and the maximum cost estimate can be dropped. And this cost-cutoff is adaptive: if during the second pass a match is found with the first pass result, the maximum cost estimate is lowered on-the-fly if this match gives a combined path with a lower cost.

For recalculations, where you still know the result from the last calculation for the same destination, the first pass can be skipped, by looking for a match with the last calculations result. You can expect to find such a match and thus a maximum cost estimate soon enough, so you get an effective limit on the search area. If a recalculation does not finish within a given timeout, it's usually o.k. to publish a merged track from the best match between the new and the old calculation, because the far-end of a route usually does not change by an immediate recalculation in case you get off the track.

The reason that c=0 (=Dijkstra) is used in the second pass and not c=1 (=A-Star) is simply that for c=0 the open-set is smaller, because many paths run into the cutoff at an early time and do not have to be managed in the open-set anymore. And because the size of the open-set has an impact on performance and memory consumption, c=0 is choosen for the second pass. The open-set is what's displayed in the graphical app-animation of the brouter-app.

However, you can change the coefficients of both passes in the routing-profile via the variables "pass1coefficient" and "pass2coefficient", as you can see in the car-test profile. A negative coefficient disables a pass, so you can e.g. force BRouter to use plain A-Star with:

assign pass1coefficient=1
assign pass2coefficient=-1

or do some super-fast dirty trick with "non-optimal" results (there are routers out there doing that!!):

assign pass1coefficient=2
assign pass2coefficient=-1

Some more words on the conditions that the path-cost-funtion g(x) has to fullfill. Mathematically it reads that you need "non-negative edge costs", but the meaning is that at the time you reach a node you must be sure that no other path reaching this node at a later time can lead to a better result over all.

If you have "turn-costs" in your cost function, this is obviously not the case, because the overall result depends and the angle at which the next edge is leaving this node.... However, there's a straight forward solution for that problem by redefining edges and nodes: in BRouter, "nodes" in the Dijkstra-sense are not OSM-Nodes, but the links between them, and the edges in the Dijkstra sense are the transitions between the links at the OSM-Nodes. With that redefinition, "turn-costs" and also "initial-costs" become valid terms in the path-cost-function.

However, there's still a problem with the elevation term in the cost-function, because this includes a low-pass-filter applied on the SRTM-altitudes that internally is implemented as an "elevation-hysteresis-buffer" that is managed parallel to the path's cost. So the path's cost is no longer the "true cost" of a path, because the hysteresis-buffer contains potential costs that maybe realized later, or maybe not.

Strictly speaking, neither Dijkstra nor A-Star can handle that. And in BRouter, there's no real solution. There's a mechanism to delay the node-decision one step further and so to reduce the probablity of glitches from that dirtyness, but mainly the solution is "don't care".