About this library
This C++ library provides a framework to create BehaviorTrees. It was designed to be flexible, easy to use and fast.
Even if our main use-case is robotics, you can use this library to build AI for games, or to replace Finite State Machines in you application.
BehaviorTree.CPP has many interesting features, when compared to other implementations:
- It makes asynchronous Actions, i.e. non-blocking, a first-class citizen.
- It allows the creation of trees at run-time, using a textual representation (XML).
- You can link staticaly your custom TreeNodes or convert them into plugins which are loaded at run-time.
- It includes a logging/profiling infrastructure that allows the user to visualize, record, replay and analyze state transitions.
What is a Behavior Tree?
A Behavior Tree (BT) is a way to structure the switching between different tasks in an autonomous agent, such as a robot or a virtual entity in a computer game.
BTs are a very efficient way of creating complex systems that are both modular and reactive. These properties are crucial in many applications, which has led to the spread of BT from computer game programming to many branches of AI and Robotics.
If you are already familiar with Finite State Machines (FSM), you will easily grasp most of the concepts but, hopefully, you will find that BTs are more expressive and easier to reason about.
The main advantages of Behavior Trees, when compared to FSMs are:
They are intrinsically Hierarchical: this means that we can compose complex behaviors including entire trees as sub-branches of a bigger tree. For instance, the behavior "Fetch Beer" may reuse in one of its nodes the tree "Grasp Object".
Their graphical representation has a semantic meaning: it is easier to "read" a BT and understand the corresponding workflow. State transitions in FSMs, by comparisons, are harder to understand both in their textual and graphical representation.
They are more expressive: Ready to use ControlNodes and DecoratorNodes make possible to express more complex control flows. The user can extend the "vocabulary" with his/her own custom nodes.
"Ok, but WHY do we need BehaviorTrees (or FSM)?"
Many software systems, being robotics a notable example, are inherently complex.
The usual approach to manage complexity, heterogeneity and scalability is to use the concept of Component Based Software Engineering.
A "good" software architecture should have the following characteristics:
- Reusability of components.
- Good separation of concerns.
If we don't keep these concepts in mind from the very beginning, we create software modules/components which are highly coupled to a particular application, instead of being reusable.
Frequently, the concern of Coordination is mixed with Computation. In other words, people address the problems of coordinating actions and take decisions locally.
The business logic becomes "spread" in many locations and it is hard for the developer to reason about it and to debug errors in the control flow.
To achieve strong separation of concerns it is better to centralize the business logic in a single location.
Finite State Machines were created specifically with this goal in mind, but in the recent years Behavior Trees gained popularity, especially in the game industry.