Online Vehicle Routing with Neural Combinatorial Optimization and Deep Reinforcement Learning

James J.Q. Yu, Wen Yu, and Jiatao Gu
IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, Volume 20, Issue 10, Oct. 2019, Pages 3806-3817

Online vehicle routing is an important task of modern transportation service provider. Contributed by the ever-increasing real-time demand on the transportation system, especially small-parcel last mile delivery requests, vehicle route generation is becoming more computationally complex than before. Existing routing algorithms are mostly based on mathematical programming, which requires huge computation time in city-size transportation networks. To develop routes with minimal time, in this work we propose a novel deep reinforcement learning-based neural combinatorial optimization strategy. Specifically, we transform the online routing problem to a vehicle tour generation problem, and propose a structural graph embedded pointer network to develop these tours iteratively. Furthermore, since constructing supervised training data for the neural network is impractical due to the high computation complexity, we propose a deep reinforcement learning mechanism with an unsupervised auxiliary network to train the model parameters. A multisampling scheme is also devised to further improve the system performance. Since the parameter training process is offline, the proposed strategy can achieve a superior online route generation speed. To assess the proposed strategy, we conduct comprehensive case studies with a real-world transportation network. The simulation results show that the proposed strategy can significantly outperform conventional strategies with limited computation time in both static and dynamic logistic systems. In addition, the influence of control parameters on the system performance is investigated.