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Robot Motion Planning 10K Times Faster

So, you think you're going to outmaneuver those slow clunky robots and escape? Only in your dreams. Back in reality, Duke University researchers have been working on a special processor for robotic motioning planning that is up to 10,000 times faster than existing approaches - and of course it uses less power, so the robot can hit you harder.


(George Konidaris and Daniel Sorin of Duke University)

... for robots with multi-jointed arms, motion planning is a hard problem that requires time-consuming computation. Simply picking an object up in an environment that has not been pre-engineered for the robot may require several seconds of computation.

Duke University researchers have introduced a specially-designed computer processor for motion planning that can plan up to 10,000 times faster than existing approaches while consuming a small fraction of the power. The new processor is fast enough to plan and operate in real time, and power-efficient enough to be used in large-scale manufacturing environments with thousands of robots.

The technology works by breaking down the arm's operating space into thousands of 3D volumes called voxels. The algorithm then determines whether or not an object is present in one of the voxels contained within pre-programmed motion paths. Thanks to the specially designed hardware, the technology can check thousands of motion paths simultaneously, and then stitch together the shortest motion path possible using the "safe" options remaining.

"The state of the art prior to our work used high-performance, commodity graphics processors that consume 200 to 300 watts," said Konidaris [assistant professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at Duke]. "And even then, it was taking hundreds of milliseconds, or even as much as a second, to find a plan. We're at less than a millisecond, and less than 10 watts. Even if we weren't faster, the power savings alone will add up in factories with thousands, or even millions, of robots."

William Gibson displays the hyper-realistic, but old-school, approach in his 1984 breakthrough classic Neuromancer; this robot gardener has to hesitate to calculate its next move:

It was Sunday afternoon and he stood with Molly in a sort of courtyard. White boulders, a stand of green bamboo, black gravel raked into smooth waves. A gardener, a thing like a large metal crab, was tending the bamboo...

The robot crab moved toward them, picking its way over the waves of gravel. Its bronze carapace might have been a thousand years old. When it was within a meter of her boots, it fired a burst of light, then froze for an instant, analyzing data obtained...
(Read more about Gibson's robot crab gardener)

Via Duke dot edu.

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