Speedy Processor for "Motion Planning" Helps Robots Navigate Obstacles

At toddler age, humans are pretty good at what roboticists call 'motion planning' - reaching around obstacles to precisely pick up objects both seen and unseen. But for robots with multi-jointed arms, motion planning is a difficult problem that requires time-consuming computation. 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 introduce 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. Speedy motion planning saves the time and expense of engineering the environment around the robot. The team designed their new processor to perform collision detection - the most time-consuming aspect of motion planning - such that the processor performs thousands of collision checks in parallel. The new processor's speed and power efficiency could create many opportunities for automation.