Agent-Based Modelling

September 19, 2019

A project done as part of the Data CDT’s GEOG5995M/ENVS802 module: Programming For Social Scientists.

Contents: Intro. Installation. Discussion. GUI 1: Tkinter. GUI 2: Browser. History & Theory.


This project is the result of working through the practical exercises put together by Dr. Andy Evans to teach core programming skills to students starting a four-year integrated PhD and MSc in Data Analytics and Society.

It is ‘licensed’ under the The Unlicense, and available on my Github.

It is intended to be run from the command line, as “the command line has many great advantages that can really make you a more efficient and productive data scientist” (Janssens 2014). However the project also includes the beginnings of a Tkinter GUI, as well as a proof-of-concept of a web-page GUI with code written in JavaScript instead of Python. “


You need to have Git and Python installed. If you don’t, use your system’s recommended package manager to download them from the command line. (For Windows, use Chocolatey.)

(Note: Python 3.8 was released on October 14th, 2019, and at time of writing is not supported by Matplotlib, so you need to install Python 3.7 specifically, otherwise you will get Python 3.8 and your installation of Matplotlib will fail.)

Then clone the Github repository, and navigate into the project folder. You can then immediately run the model:

python --version
git --version
git clone
cd agent-based-modelling
pip install -r requirements.txt

If everything is working correctly, you should be told the Initial Parameters with which the model is running (as python doesn’t specify any, the model will use the defaults), and that the various steps of running the model have successfully taken place, including how long it took to run the model, and the details of the machine you are using to run it. The output data is saved in the output_files folder.

If you are interested in testing the speed of the model with iterations of various orders of magnitude, then you can use the or tests.bat script in the tests folder to do so efficiently.

But you probably want to be able to see what your model is actually doing. We use Matplotlib for the graphic visualization. You then run python animate, or just python a if you’re feeling lazy. (In fact, any word beginning with ‘a’ should do the trick!)

pip install -r graphic_requirements.txt
python animate

You should then see a visual animation of your model as it runs: specifically, white and black dots wobbling around on a yellowly-green square. The white dots represent male rabbits; the black dots female rabbits; the green square the grassy field in which the rabbits live, with the changing brightness corresponding to how much grass is in a particular spot.

GIF showing animation

You can specify the parameters with which the model runs from the command line, in this order: num_of_agents, lifespan, neighbourhood, num_of_iterations. These must each be an integer value, otherwise the model will just run with default values.

You also need to specify that you want it to be animated by adding an a at the end.

python 20 100 10 1000 a

This would run the model with 20 agents (all with a lifespan of 100, and a mating range of 10) for 1000 iterations.


The practicals developed a class of Agent that took random walks across a two-dimensional Environment, stored resources from that Environment, and interacted with other Agents within a certain specified ‘neighbourhood’ range.

I then extended the model by writing a child Rabbit class that inherited move() and eat() functions from the parent Agent class (though now with the idea that eating gives the energy essential for life, and for movement)…

#~ ... lines 149-165

    def move(self):
        """Rabbit moves just like an Agent, but uses energy to do so."""
        -= 5

    def eat(self): 
        """A Rabbit eats just like an Agent, but dies if it runs out of energy."""
        if < 0:
            print(f"{self} died of starvation.")

and then added a mate(range) function, as well as get_older() and die() functions.

#~ ... lines 165-203

    def mate(self, range):
        """Mature female rabbits become pregnant whenever male is in range,
        and then give birth after ten steps."""
        if == "female" and self.age > 10:

            if self.pregnant > 0:
       -= 5
                self.pregnant += 1
                if self.pregnant == 10:
					### create new baby rabbit
                    self.agents.append(Rabbit(self.environment, self.agents, self.x, self.y, self.lifespan))
                    print(f'{} gave birth.')
                    self.pregnant = 0
                for agent in self.agents:
                    if self.distance_between(agent) <= range:
                        if == "male":
                            self.pregnant = 1

    def get_older(self):
        """Rabbits age."""
        self.age += 1
        if self.age > self.lifespan:
            print(f"{self} died of old age.")

    def die(self):
        """Rabbits die."""

            index = self.agents.index(self)
        except ValueError:
            # I haven't worked out why, but sometimes this thows errors.
            print('Something went wrong, but we will press on')

These functions introduced the ideas of age, lifespan, sex, and being pregnant, so when a Rabbit is initialized, we add these properties to those inherited from its initialization as an Agent. We also used the names package to assign names to each rabbit.

#~ ... lines 130-145.

    def __init__(self, env, agents, x, y, lifespan):
        """Initialize Rabbit"""
        Agent.__init__(self, env, agents, x, y)
        self.age = 0
        self.lifespan = lifespan
        = random.choice(["male", "female"])
        if == "female":
            self.pregnant = 0
            self.colour = "k ie. black"
            = names.get_first_name(


GUI 1 : Tkinter

So you’re happy working from the command line – but suppose we wanted to make a Graphical User Interface to perhaps make it more accessible for others to use.

One option is to make a native app, using Python’s Tkinter.

#~ ... lines 51 ff.

    # Configure Tkinter.
    root = tkinter.Tk()
    fig = matplotlib.pyplot.figure(figsize=(7, 7))
    canvas = matplotlib.backends.backend_tkagg.FigureCanvasTkAgg(fig, master=root)
    canvas._tkcanvas.pack(side=tkinter.TOP, fill=tkinter.BOTH, expand=1)
    menu_bar = tkinter.Menu(root)
    model_menu = tkinter.Menu(menu_bar)
    menu_bar.add_cascade(label="Model", menu=model_menu)
    model_menu.add_command(label="Run model", command=run)


You can run it with python from the command line – or you can just double-click the file in Windows, and (so long as Python 3.7 is installed), the file will run for you.

Currently all you can do is run the model with the default parameter values (which are set from within, and could perhaps be changed from there – EDIT then SAVE – by our hypothetical CLI-phobic data analyst), but this GUI could be developed if necessary.

GUI 2: Browser

The other possibility – which will allow us to much more easily reach a much larger potential audience – is to make a (web-)browser-based GUI app. Javascript and Python are similar enough that it seemed like the simplest solution might be to rewrite the same sort of model in JavaScript

// script.js ... lines 13-50

class Agent {
  constructor(x, y) {
    // set initial values = total_agents;
    total_agents ++;
    this.x = x;
    this.y = y;
    this.step_size = step_size; = 0

        if (Math.random() < 0.5) {this.x = (((this.x + this.step_size) % 500) + 500) % 500} else {this.x = (((this.x - this.step_size) % 500) + 500) % 500}
        if (Math.random() < 0.5) {this.y = (((this.y + this.step_size) % 500) + 500) % 500} else {this.y = (((this.y - this.step_size) % 500) + 500) % 500}    

		if (env.matrix[Math.round(this.x/100)][Math.round(this.y/100)] > 0){
			env.matrix[Math.round(this.x/100)][Math.round(this.y/100)] = env.matrix[Math.round(this.x/100)][Math.round(this.y/100)] - .1

        for (let j=0 ; j < agents.length ; j++){ 
        if (distance_between(, j) < neighbourhood ){
            else{console.log('do something interactive')}


Here’s what it looks like:

At the moment all you have is agents interacting with the environment, and the rendering is rather glitchy as I haven’t worked out how to use D3.js very well. But if anyone wants to develop it, they are free to clone the repository and do so!.

History & Theory

The week that this project was due for submission, I also had the chance to give a brief talk on Agent-Based Modelling as a key technique in Geographic Data Science. You can see the slides below.