Pebble motion problems

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The pebble motion problems, or pebble motion on graphs, are a set of related problems in graph theory dealing with the movement of multiple objects ("pebbles") from vertex to vertex in a graph with a constraint on the number of pebbles that can occupy a vertex at any time. Pebble motion problems occur in domains such as multi-robot motion planning (in which the pebbles are robots) and network routing (in which the pebbles are packets of data). The best-known example of a pebble motion problem is the famous 15 puzzle where a disordered group of fifteen tiles must be rearranged within a 4x4 grid by sliding one tile at a time.

Theoretical formulation[edit]

The general form of the pebble motion problem is Pebble Motion on Graphs[1] formulated as follows:

Let be a graph with vertices. Let be a set of pebbles with . An arrangement of pebbles is a mapping such that for . A move consists of transferring pebble from vertex to adjacent unoccupied vertex . The Pebble Motion on Graphs problem is to decide, given two arrangements and , whether there is a sequence of moves that transforms into .


Common variations on the problem limit the structure of the graph to be:

Another set of variations consider the case in which some[5] or all[3] of the pebbles are unlabeled and interchangeable.

Other versions of the problem seek not only to prove reachability but to find a (potentially optimal) sequence of moves (i.e. a plan) which performs the transformation.


Finding the shortest path in the pebble motion on graphs problem (with labeled pebbles) is known to be NP-hard[6] and APX-hard.[3] The unlabeled problem can be solved in polynomial time when using the cost metric mentioned above (minimizing the total number of moves to adjacent vertices), but is NP-hard for other natural cost metrics.[3]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ "A Linear-Time Algorithm for the Feasibility of Pebble Motion on Trees". Algorithmica. 23: 223–245. doi:10.1007/PL00009259. Retrieved 2013-09-27. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Reconfigurations in Graphs and Grids". Lecture Notes in Computer Science: 262–273. doi:10.1007/11682462_27. Retrieved 2013-09-27. 
  4. ^ First Name Middle Name Last Name (2009-05-17). "IEEE Xplore - A novel approach to path planning for multiple robots in bi-connected graphs". doi:10.1109/ROBOT.2009.5152326. Retrieved 2013-09-27. 
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ "The (n2-1)-puzzle and related relocation problems". doi:10.1016/S0747-7171(08)80001-6. Retrieved 2013-09-27.