Friday, May 10, 2013

O(n log n)

I have released a new version of my visibility polygon library. I improved the time complexity from O(n^2) to O(n log n) (where n is the number of vertices). O(n log n) is actually the *optimal* time complexity for this problem (since this problem can be reduced to sorting, and we know sorting is O(n log n)).

A high level description of the algorithm: First, sort all vertices according to their angle to the observer. Now iterate (angle sweep) through the sorted vertices. For each vertex imagine a ray projecting outwards from the observer towards that vertex - all we need to compute is the closest "active" line segment in order to construct the visibility polygon. The closest active line segment must be computed in O(log n) time (for each vertex). I used a special type of heap to accomplish this. The heap keeps track of all active line segments (arranged by distance to the observer). The closest line segment is at the root of the heap. Since line segments don't intersect (a constraint in the problem definition), the heap remains consistent. This property is essential - if the distance ordering between two line segments could change depending on the angle, then a heap would no longer work. So, we can find the closest segment in O(1) time and insert new segments in O(log n) time. The reason the heap I used is "special" is because it also allows removing line segments (when they are no longer active) in O(log n) time. Inactive line segments can't just be ignored and left in the heap - they need to be removed to maintain a consistent distance ordering. In a standard heap, removing an arbitrary element takes O(n) time (since it takes linear time just to find the element). My heap contains an additional map structure from element value to heap index, so elements can be found in O(1) time. Once an element is found, we swap in the last element in the tree and propagate it either up or down (which takes O(log n) time) to maintain heap correctness. Hooray!

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