A new, robust, and generic method for the quick creation of smooth paths and near time-optimal path tracking
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Robotics has been the subject of academic study from as early as 1948. For much of this time, study has focused on very specific applications in very well controlled environments. For example, the first commercial robots (1961) were introduced in order to improve the efficiency of production lines. The tasks undertaken by these robots were simple, and all that was required of a control algorithm was speed, repetitiveness and reliability in these environments. Now however, robots are being used to move around autonomously in increasingly unpredictable environments, and the need for robotic control algorithms that can successfully react to such conditions is ever increasing. In addition to this there is an ever-increasing array of robots available, the control algorithms for which are often incompatible. This can result in extensive redesign and large sections of code being re-written for use on different architectures. The thesis presented here is that a new generic approach can be created that provides robust high quality smooth paths and time-optimal path tracking to substantially increase applicability and efficiency of autonomous motion plans. The control system developed to support this thesis is capable of producing high quality smooth paths, and following these paths to a high level of accuracy in a robust and near time-optimal manner. The system can control a variety of robots in environments that contain 2D obstacles of various shapes and sizes. The system is also resilient to sensor error, spatial drift, and wheel-slip. In achieving the above, this system provides previously unavailable functionality by generically creating and tracking high quality paths so that only minor and clear adjustments are required between different robots and also be being capable of operating in environments that contain high levels of perturbation. The system is comprised of five separate novel component algorithms in order to cater for five different motion challenges facing modern robots. Each algorithm provides guaranteed functionality that has previously been unavailable in respect to its challenges. The challenges are: high quality smooth movement to reach n-dimensional goals in regions without obstacles, the navigation of 2D obstacles with guaranteed completeness, high quality smooth movement for ground robots carrying out 2D obstacle navigation, near time-optimal path tracking, and finally, effective wheel-slip detection and compensation. In meeting these challenges the algorithms have tackled adherence to non-holonomic constraints, applicability to a wide range of robots and tasks, fast real-time creation of paths and controls, sensor error compensation, and compensation for perturbation. This thesis presents each of the above algorithms individually. It is shown that existing methods are unable to produce the results provided by this thesis, before detailing the operation of each algorithm. The methodology employed is varied in accordance with each of the five core challenges. However, a common element of methodology throughout the thesis is that of gradient descent within a new type of potential field, which is dynamic and capable of the simultaneous creation of high-quality paths and the controls required to execute them. By relating global to local considerations through subgoals, this methodology (combined with other elements) is shown to be fully capable of achieving the aims of the thesis. It is concluded that the produced system represents a novel and significant contribution as there is no other system (to the author’s knowledge) that provides all of the functionality given. For each component algorithm there are many control systems that provide one or more of its features, but none that are capable of all of the features. Applications for this work are wide ranging as it is comprised of five component algorithms each applicable in their own right. For example, high quality smooth paths may be created and followed in any dimensionality of space if time optimality and obstacle avoidance are not required. Broadly speaking, and in summary, applications are to ground-based robotics in the areas of smooth path planning, time optimal travel, and compensation for unpredictable perturbation.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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