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Given two points s and t in the plane and a set of obstacles defined by closed curves, what is the minimum number of obstacles touched by a path connecting s and t? This is a fundamental and well-studied problem arising naturally in computational geometry, graph theory (under the names Min-Color Path and Minimum Label Path), wireless sensor networks (Barrier Resilience) and motion planning (Minimum Constraint Removal). It remains NP-hard even for very simple-shaped obstacles such as unit-length line segments. In this paper we give the first constant factor approximation algorithm for this problem, resolving an open problem of [Chan and Kirkpatrick, TCS, 2014] and [Bandyapadhyay et al., CGTA, 2020]. We also obtain a constant factor approximation for the Minimum Color Prize Collecting Steiner Forest where the goal is to connect multiple request pairs (s1, t1), . . . , (sk, tk) while minimizing the number of obstacles touched by any (si, ti) path plus a fixed cost of wi for each pair (si, ti) left disconnected. This generalizes the classic Steiner Forest and Prize-Collecting Steiner Forest problems on planar graphs, for which intricate PTASes are known. In contrast, no PTAS is possible for Min-Color Path even on planar graphs since the problem is known to be APX- hard [Eiben and Kanj, TALG, 2020]. Additionally, we show that generalizations of the problem to disconnected obstacles in the plane or connected obstacles in higher dimensions are strongly inapproximable assuming some well-known hardness conjectures.

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