The Lawn Mowing Problem: From Algebra to Algorithms

Authors Sándor P. Fekete , Dominik Krupke , Michael Perk , Christian Rieck , Christian Scheffer

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Sándor P. Fekete
  • Department of Computer Science, TU Braunschweig, Germany
Dominik Krupke
  • Department of Computer Science, TU Braunschweig, Germany
Michael Perk
  • Department of Computer Science, TU Braunschweig, Germany
Christian Rieck
  • Department of Computer Science, TU Braunschweig, Germany
Christian Scheffer
  • Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Bochum University of Applied Sciences, Bochum, Germany

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Sándor P. Fekete, Dominik Krupke, Michael Perk, Christian Rieck, and Christian Scheffer. The Lawn Mowing Problem: From Algebra to Algorithms. In 31st Annual European Symposium on Algorithms (ESA 2023). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 274, pp. 45:1-45:18, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2023)


For a given polygonal region P, the Lawn Mowing Problem (LMP) asks for a shortest tour T that gets within Euclidean distance 1/2 of every point in P; this is equivalent to computing a shortest tour for a unit-diameter cutter C that covers all of P. As a generalization of the Traveling Salesman Problem, the LMP is NP-hard; unlike the discrete TSP, however, the LMP has defied efforts to achieve exact solutions, due to its combination of combinatorial complexity with continuous geometry. We provide a number of new contributions that provide insights into the involved difficulties, as well as positive results that enable both theoretical and practical progress. (1) We show that the LMP is algebraically hard: it is not solvable by radicals over the field of rationals, even for the simple case in which P is a 2×2 square. This implies that it is impossible to compute exact optimal solutions under models of computation that rely on elementary arithmetic operations and the extraction of kth roots, and explains the perceived practical difficulty. (2) We exploit this algebraic analysis for the natural class of polygons with axis-parallel edges and integer vertices (i.e., polyominoes), highlighting the relevance of turn-cost minimization for Lawn Mowing tours, and leading to a general construction method for feasible tours. (3) We show that this construction method achieves theoretical worst-case guarantees that improve previous approximation factors for polyominoes. (4) We demonstrate the practical usefulness beyond polyominoes by performing an extensive practical study on a spectrum of more general benchmark polygons: We obtain solutions that are better than the previous best values by Fekete et al., for instance sizes up to 20 times larger.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Computational geometry
  • Geometric optimization
  • covering problems
  • tour problems
  • lawn mowing
  • algebraic hardness
  • approximation algorithms
  • algorithm engineering


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