An Implementation of the Contract Net Protocol Based on Marginal Cost Calculations

Tuomas Sandholm

This paper presents a formalization of the bidding and awarding decision process that was left undefined in the original contract net task allocation protocol. This formalization is based on marginal cost calculations based on local agent criteria. In this way, agents having very different local criteria (based on their self-interest) can interact to distribute tasks so that the network as a whole functions more effectively. In this model, both competitive and cooperative agents can interact. In addition, the contract net protocol is extended to allow for clustering of tasks, to deal with the possibility of a large number of announcement and bid messages and to effectively handle situations, in which new bidding and awarding is being done during the period when the results of previous bids are unknown. The protocol is verified by the TRACONET (TRAnsportation COoperation NET) system, where dispatch centers of different companies cooperate automatically in vehicle routing. The implementation is asynchronous and truly distributed, and it provides the agents extensive autonomy. The protocol is discussed in detail and test results with real data are presented.

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