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Rate of Flow in a Black Box

Hi all.

Here's the problem: I've got a black box and a bunch of particles in
an environment. The particles go into the black box, follow a path,
and pop out the end after some processing. They are processed
first-in-first-out, like a queue.

Inside the black box is a physical layout that can be thought of as a
series of pipes or a lineup at an airport checkin. The interior layout
can change at runtime (ie, a pipe can be rerouted or the airline
employee can move one of the fabric cordons). But it is a black box
and we don't know the layout at any given time.

The particles are either Red or Green. Green particles report their
positions to the server every x seconds. Red particles do not. So the
only information we can get out of the black box is the positions of
the green particles as they make their way through the pipes.
Furthermore, there is some errorFactor when a particle reports its
position to the server. So if two lengths of pipe are close together,
a Green particle could report that it is in a position that would
actually be in the other length of pipe. The only knowledge the server
has is the reported positions of the Green particles over time, and a
rectangle where the black box is located.

When the particles get to the end of the pipe, they are processed in
batches of 4-8 and then spit out of the black box. The position where
they are spit out is far away from the rest of the black box, so we
know for sure when a particle is out.

I need to estimate how long it is going to take a new particle entering
the black box to get processed.

First I'll just ask if this is a well known problem or could be
shoehorned into a well known problem. And additionally - is there some
existing Python library / code that solves it.

I've got 3 (mediocre) candidate solutions, but it seems like something
that should be already solved.

-sjbrown

Mar 19 '06 #1
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