Programmable Chip Turns a Robot's Long Pauses into Quick Action

Duke University researchers have found a way to speed up robotic motion planning by three orders of magnitude while using one-twentieth the power. Their solution is a custom processor that can perform the most time-consuming part of the job - checking for all potential collisions across the robot's entire range of motion - with unprecedented efficiency. Motion planning for something like a robotic arm usually involves first generating a probabilistic road map, or PRM. Getting the number of edges in the PRM down to something manageable is important because of the limits of the processor that handles the planning. The new processor, a field programmable gate array, is programmed with an array of collision-detection circuits, each one of which corresponds to one of the edges in the PRM.