My research focuses on constructing and analyzing systems of intelligent, autonomous agents. These agents may include people, physical robots, or software programs acting as assistants, teammates, opponents, or trading partners. In a large class of multi-agent scenarios, the effect of local interactions between agents can be compactly represented as a network structure such as a distributed constraint optimization problem (DCOP) for cooperative domains. Collaboration between large groups of agents, given such a network, can be difficult to achieve; often agents can only manage to collaborate in smaller subgroups of a certain size, in order to find a workable solution in a timely manner. The goal of my thesis is to provide algorithms to enable networks of agents that are bounded in this way to quickly find high-quality solutions, as well as theoretical results to understand key properties of these solutions. Relevant domains for my work include personal assistant agents, sensor networks, and teams of autonomous robots. In particular, this thesis considers the case in which agents optimize a DCOP by forming groups of one or more agents until no group of k or fewer agents can possibly improve the solution; we define this type of local optimum, and any algorithm guaranteed to reach such a local optimum, as k-optimal. In this document, I present four key contributions related to k-optimality. The first set of results are worst-case guarantees on the solution quality of k-optima in a DCOP.

These guarantees can help determine an appropriate k-optimal algorithm, or possibly an appropriate constraint graph structure, for agents to use in situations where the cost of coordination between agents must be weighed against the quality of the solution reached. The second set of results are upper bounds on the number of k-optima that can exist in a DCOP. Because each joint action consumes resources, knowing the maximal number of k-optimal joint actions that could exist for a given DCOP allows us to allocate sufficient resources for a given level of k, or, alternatively, choosing an appropriate level of k-optimality, given fixed resource. The third contribution is a set of 2-optimal and 3-optimal algorithms and an experimental analysis of the performance of 1-, 2-, and 3-optimal algorithms on several types of DCOPs. The final contribution of this thesis is a case study of the application of k-optimal DCOP algorithms and solutions to the problem of the formation of human teams spanning multiple organizations. Given a particular specification of a human team (such as a task force to respond to an emergency) and a pool of possible team members, a DCOP can be formulated to match this specification. A set of k-optimal solutions to the DCOP represents a set of diverse, locally optimal options from which a human commander can choose the team that will be used.

%G eng %9 PhD thesis