2D Path Planning with Minkowski and OpenSCAD

CS 480: Robotics & 3D Printing Lecture, Dr. Lawlor

When doing path planning in 2D for a ground robot, we often work in 3D so we can explicitly represent the robot's orientation.  The Z axis units might be degrees, from 0 (robot facing forward) through 180 (robot facing backward) to 360 again (robot facing forward again).  This does mean the +Z and -Z faces wrap around.

Given a simple room shape, and a disk shaped robot, the configuration space is very simple, with the walls inset by the robot's radius.  For a more complicated robot shape, the allowable distance from the walls depends on the robot's orientation, which makes the allowed region in configuration space more complex.

It's possible to use OpenSCAD's minkowski sum to compute the allowed region of the robot center in this 3D configuration space.

The rationale here is:
Robot and wall paths in configuration space

The OpenSCAD code is:
Robot 2D path planning in OpenSCAD

Dr. Orion Lawlor, lawlor@alaska.edu, 2015-10-04 (Public Domain)

// Number of orientations to check:
turn_slices=8; // every 45 degrees, under 1 minute
// turn_slices=36; // every 10 degrees, 3 minutes

// Robot 2D outline, mirrored on both axes
module robot_2D() {

// Robot's 3D configuration space outline
module robot_3D() {
linear_extrude(height=360,twist=-360,convexity=8,slices=turn_slices) robot_2D();

// Outline of room
module room_2D() {
difference() {
// projecting hole in room
// square(size=[500,200]);

// Difference between environment and room
module room_disallowed() {
difference() {

// Disallowed region for robot center point
module robot_disallowed() {
minkowski() {

// Allowed region for robot center point
module robot_allowed() {
difference() {
linear_extrude(height=360,convexity=2) room_2D();

(Download this OpenSCAD code)

One trick here is there isn't a built-in OpenSCAD operation to compute "all center points of an object (the robot) while staying inside the other object (the room)".  So we compute this by first computing the disallowed region outside the room, enlarging this by the robot's size (the minkowski sum), and subtracting this from the room's interior.

Minkowski runs quite slowly, taking nearly a minute even for a very simple rectangular robot in a rectangular room under 8 different orientations, but it is reliable and if you wait long enough, it seems to work for arbitrary shaped robots in arbitrary shaped rooms.  For realtime robot use, you could precompute the allowed region and export it as an STL or OBJ file.

This then converts checking a robot's intersection with the walls with a much simpler point-in-STL test (e.g., Möller-Trumbore ray/triangle test).  I converted the ASCII STL file into vertex() function calls with this UNIX command pipeline:
	cat foo.stl | grep vertex | awk '{printf("  vertex(%.3f,%.3f,%.3f);\n",$2,$3,$4);}' > foo.js

Non-Holonomic Control

A control system is "holonomic" if the system's total number of degrees of freedom equals the number of degrees  of freedom we can directly control. A system with 2D position and orientation has three degrees of freedom.  A system with two independently controllable wheels (tank steering) has two degrees of freedom--it can move forward or backward, and turn in place, but it cannot crab sideways.  By contrast, these omni wheels allow a forklift to immediately move in any direction, or rotate in place.

Non-holonomic control complicates navigation--even if we can spin in place, moving directly along Z in configuration space, due to the shape of the robot we may still hit a wall.  We can drive forward and backward, but only along our wheel direction.  (Related: Austin Powers 3-point turn scene.)