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Lydia Kavraki co-wrote motion planning chapter in premier robotics reference book

February 21, 2017

Lydia Kavraki with Robotics Handbook No one was more surprised by the phenomenal success of the "Springer Handbook of Robotics" than one of its contributors, Lydia Kavraki, the Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science and a professor of bioengineering at Rice University. She was even more surprised when the editors suggested a second edition last year.

"That 2007 edition was so successful," she said, "it is now in every robotics lab as a reference book. It covered robotics extensively, so when the editors proposed a second edition and contacted the previous contributors there was a big discussion about the changes over the last 10 years," said Kavraki. "It was an interesting discussion for everybody involved and the editors managed the process superbly.."

Each section was written by experts in specific areas of robotics, with two or three scientists collaborating on a single chapter. The first edition contained 64 chapters and just over 1600 pages. The new reference book also includes video links to further explore or explain concepts in each chapter.

Kavraki updated the motion planning chapter with her co-author, Steven LaValle, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois. Their chapter is included in the first section of the book, Part A Robotics Foundations.

Several sections of the Handbook have had significant updates. For example, the design section still includes robot hands and wheeled robots, but added chapters underwater robots and flying robots. This section also features developments in robotic locomotion that mimic those found in nature, such as fish, geckos, snakes, fleas, and birds. Other sections span robot manipulation and robots working with humans to solve complex and difficult tasks.

Expanded to 80 chapters and 2227 pages, the numerous updates and additions to the second edition mirror the explosion of advances in the field of robotics itself.

"In my own area, robot motion planning, there have been major changes," Kavraki said. "We expanded our chapter to include optimizing sampling-based planners. Ten years ago we were really happy when we were able to find any path with a sampling-based planner; today we seek good paths." Sampling-based planners sample the free space of motion of the robot in an effort to compute paths.

Building on the concept of sampling-based planning and its extensions, members of Kavraki's research group have developed the Open Motion Planning Library , a collection of sampling-based motion planning algorithms that can be integrated in 65 different platforms. "We maintain and distribute the library, and have opened it to contributions from other groups," she said. Today the library has contributions from robotics groups at MIT, Stanford, Universidad Carlos II de Madrit, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rutgers, and several others.

Although she's excited that the new reference book is so thorough, Kavraki said it is not a useful tool for teaching a course on robotics. For her courses, she continues using the "Principles of Robot Motion: Theory, Algorithms, and Implementations," a college textbook she co-wrote with colleagues at universities including Stanford, Northwestern, Illinois, Carnegie Mellow and Freiburg. She uses some chapters from the Handbook as additional reading for her class. "But I will always keep the Handbook in my lab; the student love having such a reference around."