Planning Practical Paths for Tentacle Robots

Jing Yang, Robert Codd-Downey, Patrick Dymond, Junquan Xu and Michael Jenkin

Department of Computer Science and Engineering, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Canada

Keywords:

Path Planning, Tentacle Robotics, Redundant Manipulators.

Abstract:

Robots with many degrees of freedom with one ﬁxed end are known as tentacle robots due to their similarity

to the tentacles found on squid and octopus. Tentacle robots offer advantages over traditional robots in many

scenarios due to their enhanced ﬂexibility and reachability. Planning practical paths for these devices is chal-

lenging due to their high degrees of freedom (DOFs). Sampling-based path planners are a commonly used

approach for high DOF planning problems but the solutions found using such planners are often not practical

in that they do not take into account soft application-speciﬁc constraints during the planning process. This

paper describes a general sample adjustment method for tentacle robots, which adjusts the randomly gener-

ated nodes within their local neighborhood to satisfy soft constraints required by the problem. The approach

is demonstrated on a planar tentacle robot composed of ten Robotis Dynamixel AX-12 servos.

1 INTRODUCTION

Tentacle robots (see Figure 1), also knownas snake or

serpentine robots, are manipulator robots with many

degrees of freedom (DOFs). Such devices have re-

ceived considerable attention from the robotics com-

munity due to their applicability in a wide range of

different domains. Surveys on tentacle robots are pro-

vided in (Transeth et al., 2009) and (Rollinson and

Choset, 2011). Tentacle robots are often an attractive

alternative to traditional robotic systems for difﬁcult

terrains and challenging grasping scenarios. These

applications include search and rescue missions in

complex urban environments, planetary surface ex-

ploration, minimally invasive surgery, and inspection

of piping and nuclear systems (Choset and Henning,

1999; Gayle et al., 2007; Buckinham and Graham,

2011). Unlike traditional manipulator robots which

tend to have small numbers of DOFs, tentacle robots

utilize redundantDOF’s in order to enhance their abil-

ity to deal with complex environments and tasks.

Path planning is a fundamental problem for nearly

all the robotic systems. The basic robot path plan-

ning problem involves ﬁnding a path for a robot to

get from ‘here’ to ‘there’ while avoiding any obsta-

cles in a static environment. It has been proven that

the basic path planning problem is PSPACE-complete

in the dimensionality of the DOFs possessed by the

robot (Reif, 1979; Canny, 1988). As a consequence,

a number of probabilistic sampling-based planners

have been developed to solve high-dimensional real-

world path planning problems (a summary is provided

in (Tsianos et al., 2007)) such as the planning problem

encountered with tentacle robots.

Since it can be hard to plan a path for robots with

many DOFs, most methods for high DOF robots aim

at ﬁnding any solution within a reasonable time. With

the development of sampling-based algorithms and

their application in practice, the focus has shifted to

considering the quality of the path obtained (Raveh

et al., 2011; Geraerts, 2006; Kim et al., 2003; Garber

and Lin, 2002; Wein et al., 2005; Bayazit, 2003; Song

et al., 2001; Karaman and Frazzoli, 2011). A short-

coming of basic sampling-based planning approaches

is that they often obtain highly ‘non-optimal’ solu-

tions since they rely upon randomization to map or

explore the search space. Although these algorithms

may ﬁnd a valid solution, that solution may not be

practical in that it does not meet soft constraints that

exist within the problem domain. Furthermore, it

has been proven that standard PRM and RRT are not

asymptotically optimal, i.e. the cost of the solution

returned by the algorithm will not converge to the op-

timal cost as the number of samples increases (Kara-

man and Frazzoli, 2011).

The need to properly represent and use soft con-

straints is particularly important for redundant DOF

robots such as tentacle devices. For these devices

the high number of DOFs provide the opportunity to

deal with complex environments and to produce so-

lutions that are not only correct (e.g., they grasp the

object through free space, for grasping tasks) but that

128

Yang J., Codd-Downey R., Dymond P., Xu J. and Jenkin M..

Planning Practical Paths for Tentacle Robots.

DOI: 10.5220/0004263501280137

In Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Agents and Artiﬁcial Intelligence (ICAART-2013), pages 128-137

ISBN: 978-989-8565-38-9

Copyright

c

2013 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)

Figure 1: A planar tentacle robot with ten links.

they also optimize other requirements of the problem

space. One common way of taking these constraints

into account is to use an appropriate controller that

takes the path identiﬁed by the path planner as input

and then integrates the soft constraints while follow-

ing the path (Bruce and Veloso, 2005; Kobilarov and

Sukhatme, 2005). There are many issues with this

approach. Perhaps most critically the paths produced

may be infeasible for a real robot. For example, fol-

lowing the path produced may require that the robot

move extremely slowly in order to minimize the in-

ﬂuence of dynamics and other physical constraints.

These controllers are also system speciﬁc, and it can

be very hard to develop a good ‘general’ controllers

or to know which controller to use for which task.

A more general approach is to augment sampling-

based path planning with mechanisms to provide

paths that are both correct but that also optimize soft

constraints. Such augmentation could take place at

different points in the path planning algorithm. Here

we concentrate on optimizations performed during

the sampling phase of the algorithm. Speciﬁcally we

perturb each randomly generated sample within its

local neighborhood in order to enhance compliance

with the soft constraints. We show that this often

leads to more practical paths for the robot. The frame-

work described here is intended to be robot indepen-

dent, but the approach is described and tuned here to-

wards capabilities and tasks associated with the planar

tentacle robot shown in Figure 1.

This paper is structured as follows: Section 2 re-

views existing sampling-based planning algorithms

that address the path quality problem and the current

methods used to plan paths for tentacle robots. Sec-

tion 3 formulates the practicality of paths in terms

of soft constraints and describes constraints particu-

larly critical for tentacle robots. In Sections 4 and 5,

path planning strategies are developed to ﬁnd paths of

user-preferred qualities based on this formalism. Sec-

tion 6 includes comparison results from applying the

practicality-based approach and basic PRM to differ-

ent test environments using both real and simulated

tentacle robots. Finally Section 7 summarizes the

work and provides possible directions for future re-

search.

2 RELATED WORK

2.1 Sampling-based Path Planning

Instead of computing an exact representation of the

planning space, sampling-based planners generate

samples and test motions in conﬁguration space. Such

planners usually represent motions as a graph as in

the Probabilistic Roadmap Method (PRM) (Kavraki

et al., 1996; Kavraki et al., 1998), or as a tree as in the

Rapidly-exploring Random Tree (RRT) (LaValle and

Kuffner, 2000). These methods are probabilistically

complete and it is not guaranteed that these planners

will ﬁnd a path even though one exists, but if they do

ﬁnd a path the path will take the device from the initial

conﬁgurationto the goal. With the developmentof the

sampling-based algorithms and their application in

practice, focus in the research community has shifted

to considering the quality or practicality of the com-

puted path. Randomized path planning algorithms ad-

dressing the path quality problem can be divided into

three broad categories based on where practical issues

are integrated within the algorithm: pre-processing,

post-processing, and customized learning.

Pre-processing Approaches. Pre-processing ap-

proaches consider the speciﬁc preferences of de-

sired paths in the pre-processing phase, i.e. during

the roadmap construction phase before a query is

made. Because of its probabilistic nature, the PRM

roadmap often contains nodes and edges that lack

practical usage or are redundant. Aiming at ﬁnd-

PlanningPracticalPathsforTentacleRobots

129

ing shorter paths with higher clearance, Nieuwen-

huisen and Overmars (Nieuwenhuisen and Overmars,

2004) proposed to add nodes and edges to create “use-

ful” cycles, which provide short paths and alternative

paths in different homotopy classes. Based on this

work, a PRM variant also attempts to retract nodes

and edges to the medial axis for generating high clear-

ance paths (Geraerts, 2006).

Post-processing Approaches. Given a path found

by the sampling-based path planner, post-processing

approaches modify the path in accordance with the re-

quired practicality preference by adding new nodes,

smoothing it, eliminating unnecessary loops or de-

tours, etc. Path pruning and shortcut heuristics

are common post-processing techniques for creat-

ing shorter and smoother paths (Hsu, 2000; Ger-

aerts, 2006). Two retraction algorithms are presented

to add clearance to a given path, one based in the

workspace and the other one based in the conﬁgu-

ration space (Geraerts and Overmars, 2005). Post-

processing algorithms may take multiple paths as in-

puts rather than just a single one. For example, the

path merging algorithm described in (Raveh et al.,

2011) computes a path with improved quality by hy-

bridizing high-quality sub-paths from the initial input

paths. The algorithm considers the generalized for-

mulation of path quality measures rather than speciﬁc

requirements.

Customized Learning. Although post-processing

algorithmshave shownsome success in improving the

path quality and can be used by all the path planners,

the ﬁnal path depends on the original paths, i.e. they

cannot ﬁnd alternative routes that deviate consider-

ably from the original ones. To avoid this problem,

customized learning algorithms integrate the require-

ment for path quality in the learning phase. For exam-

ple, Kim et al. (Kim et al., 2003) use an augmented

version of Dijkstra’s algorithm to extract a path from

a roadmap on criteria other than path length.

The approach of initially ﬁnding an approxi-

mate solution is utilized by the Fuzzy PRM (Nielsen

and Kavraki, 2000), Lazy PRM (Bohlin and

Kavraki, 2000), IRC (Iterative Relaxation of Con-

straints) (Bayazit, 2003) and C-PRM (Customizable

PRM) (Song et al., 2001) algorithms where the

roadmap nodes and edges are not validated, or are

only partially validated, during roadmap construc-

tion. During the learning phase, the path is searched

by strengthening the constraints (obstacle collision,

path length or other speciﬁed preferences) iteratively.

These methods are designed to decrease the roadmap

construction costs, while only increasing the query

costs slightly.

2.2 Path Planning for Tentacle Robots

There has been relatively little work devoted ex-

plicitly to tentacle robot path planning. One ap-

proach is based on the deﬁnition of tunnels in the

workspace (Chirikjian and Burdick, 1990). Meth-

ods from differential geometry are then used to guar-

antee that the tentacle is conﬁned to the tunnels,

and therefore avoids any obstacles. This work does

not prescribe any strategy for constructing the tun-

nels. Later, it was proposed to use the results of the

Generalized Voronoi Graph (GVG) approach to con-

struct the tunnels. Motion planning is then achieved

via a nose-following approach which allows the end-

effector to move along the GVG followed by the rest

of body (Choset and Henning, 1999).

Sampling-based planning algorithms such as

PRMs and RRTs are popular because of their suc-

cess in a wide range of applications and in high-

dimensional conﬁguration spaces. This makes them

an appealing choice for tentacle robot path planning,

but they still suffer from the problem of generating

less than optimal paths of the robot. Aiming at ﬁnding

realistic paths for highly articulated chain a physics-

based sampling strategy is presented in (Gayle et al.,

2007). The method exploits the coherence between

joint angles via the “adaptive forward dynamics”

framework in order to determine which joints have

the greatest impact on the overall motion. Then, only

the most important joints are simulated. The samples

are then biased by using constraint forces designed to

avoid collisions while moving toward the goal (simi-

lar to the potential ﬁeld approach). Simulations show

that the planner was able to ﬁnd more natural paths

than the PRMs and RRTs that used straight-line local

planners.

3 PROBLEM STATEMENT

In basic path planning (Latombe, 1991), given a robot

A , a static workspace W containing a set of obstacles,

an initial conﬁguration θ

init

and a goal conﬁguration

θ

goal

, the objective of path planning is to determine a

feasible path P between θ

init

and θ

goal

. The deﬁnition

of feasible paths only considers geometric constraints

that arise from collision with obstacles and is often in-

adequate to describe realistic path planning problems.

Soft constraints can be added to the basic path

planning problem in a number of different ways. Fol-

lowing the PDDL3.0 approach (Gerevini and Long,

2005), the syntax for soft constraints can be bro-

ken down into two components: (i) the identiﬁca-

tion of the soft constraints; and (ii) the description

ICAART2013-InternationalConferenceonAgentsandArtificialIntelligence

130

of how the satisfaction or lack of these constraints

affects the quality of the result. Similar to the de-

scriptions of hard constraints, soft constraints are also

described using predicates of the planning problem.

Each binary soft constraint is associated with a vio-

lation penalty weight such that paths, or portions of

paths that satisfy different subsets of soft constraints

can be compared. Let S be the set of soft constraints.

The following are typical soft constraints for tentacle

robots described in terms of inequalities between the

value computed from the robot’s conﬁguration and a

corresponding threshold λ:

Safe Clearance from Obstacles (SCO). A soft

constraint for keeping a safe clearance from the ob-

stacles (Zghal and Dubey, 1990) is given by

N

∑

i=1

1

D

i

!

≤ λ

SCO

(1)

where D

i

is the distance between the i-th link of

the manipulator and obstacles, and λ

SCO

is the pre-

deﬁned upper bound (similar to λ

JLA

and λ

PEE

be-

low);

Joint Limit Avoidance (JLA). A soft constraint

for joint limit avoidance (Zghal and Dubey, 1990) is

given by

N

∑

i=1

θ

i,Max

− θ

i,Min

(θ

i,Max

− θ

i

)(θ

i

− θ

i,Min

)

!

≤ λ

JLA

(2)

where θ

i,Max

and θ

i,Min

are the maximum and min-

imum permissible joint angles and θ

i

is the current

joint angle for the i-the joint.

Precision of End-Effector (PEE). It is often re-

quired to ensure the precision with which a tentacle

robot approaches a point or follows a path deﬁned

by the pose of the end-effector (EEF) (Hill and Tesar,

1997). Let x ∈ R

m

represent the output position vec-

tor of the EEF and θ ∈ R

n

the vector of joint angles of

the robot. An inﬁnitesimal error in the EEF position

can be mapped from the joint errors through:

∆x = J∆c (3)

where the m× n matrix J, called the Jacobian, is a ge-

ometrically dependent structure relating the joint er-

rors to the output errors (Manseur, 2006; Khalil and

Dombre, 2002). The Euclidean norm of the EEF error

is therefore bounded above by

k∆xk

k∆ck

≤ σ

max

(4)

where σ

max

is the Jacobian’s maximum singular val-

ues. A soft constraint for the generalized EEF preci-

sion can be deﬁned by bounding σ

max

:

σ

max

≤ λ

PEE

(5)

Note that we do not attempt to distinguish degrees of

satisfaction of a soft constraint – we are only con-

cerned with whether or not the constraint is satisﬁed.

However, a soft constraint may be counted multiple

times depending on the number of the violation oc-

currences exhibited while executing the path. Let P

denote the set of all feasible paths. Here we deﬁne

the cost function that describes the overall practical-

ity of a path and then deﬁne the path planning with

soft constraints using the cost function.

Cost Function. Consider a feasible conﬁguration

θ ∈ C

free

, where C

free

is the free conﬁguration space,

i.e θ meets all the hard constraints, e.g., not colliding

with the surrounding obstacles and staying within the

joint limits. Given a soft constraint s, the cost func-

tion of the conﬁguration cost

s

: C

free

→ [0, 1], i.e. a

cost

s

(θ) ∈ [0, 1] can be computed for each θ ∈ C

free

.

This cost function can be continuous or discrete. In

its simplest version, the cost function cost

s

is binary,

which is 0 when the soft constraint is satisﬁed by θ,

and 1 when violated.

Furthermore, given a set of soft constraints S with

associated violation penalty weights, the cost of the

feasible conﬁguration is the summation of the penalty

weights of all the cost of soft constraints that are vio-

lated by θ, deﬁned as

cost : C

free

→ R

≥0

, cost(θ) =

∑

s∈S

w(s)·cost

s

(θ) (6)

where w(s) is a positive value that represents the vi-

olation penalty weight associated with the soft con-

straint s. A path P of length l is represented by a

unit-speed parametric function τ : [0, l] → C

free

with

τ(t) = θ

t

∈ P . Then the parametric cost function can

be deﬁned:

v : [0, l] → R

≥0

v(t) = cost ◦ τ(t) = cost(θ

t

) (7)

Given a feasible path P , its cost is the integral of the

cost of all the conﬁgurations along the path, deﬁned

as

cost : P → R

≥0

, cost(P ) =

Z

l

0

v(t)dt (8)

A discrete approximation of the integral leads to

cost : P → R

≥0

, cost(P ) ∼

1

n

n−1

∑

k=0

v((

k

n− 1

)l) (9)

Which provides a cost function that penalizes paths

with sections that violate the soft constraints pro-

vided.

PlanningPracticalPathsforTentacleRobots

131

Algorithm 1: Roadmap Generation with Soft Constraints.

1: V ←

/

0

2: E ←

/

0

3: for i = 1, ..., n do

4: θ

rand

← sampling with soft constraints

5: V ← V ∪ {θ

rand

}

6: end for

7: for all v ∈ V do

8: X ← Near(G = (V, E), θ

rand

, r)

9: for all x ∈ X do

10: if (v, x) H then

11: E ← E ∪ {(v, x), (x, v)}

12: end if

13: end for

14: end for

15: return G = (V,E)

Path Planning with Soft Constraints. Given a

path planning problem (A , W , θ

init

, θ

goal

), a set of

soft constraints S with corresponding penalty weights

and a cost function cost, generate a feasible path P

such that cost(P ) is minimized. Report failure if no

feasible path can be found.

4 SAMPLING WITH SOFT

CONSTRAINTS

PRM was designed to answer multiple path queries

for a high-DOF robot in cluttered environments. In

order for the algorithm to ﬁnd not only correct paths

but also paths that minimize violations of soft con-

straints the basic method must be reﬁned. Here we

describe the integration of the node-based soft con-

straints in the sampling phase of the PRM.

Following (Kavraki et al., 1998), the PRM

roadmap generation is outlined in Algorithm 1.

During node generation, instead of choosing com-

pletely random conﬁgurations, our sampling method

with soft constraints (i.e. SamplingSC and Sam-

plingHCSC) is called (line 4) and the new conﬁgu-

ration that satisﬁes some or all the soft constraints is

added to the set of vertices V. Connections are then

attempted between vertices within a distance r using

a simple straight-line local planner.

It is observed that for a collision-free node to be

useful for path planning it must be part of a connected

free region. Within any region we can expect some

locations to be more practical than others. Ensuring

that more practical nodes are chosen during the seed-

ing process while still sampling the space sufﬁciently

densely to construct paths is likely to improve overall

path practicality, at least as measured by the node-

based soft constraints.

Given that a node was found to be feasible we can

search within a local region of this node to enhance

the practicality of this node. In order to take advan-

tage of this, the planner adjusts a node within its free

space to states with fewer soft constraint violations

before adding them to the roadmap. For efﬁciency

reasons, and for generality of the approach, we fol-

low the philosophy of randomness of the PRMs to

make the adjustment. We present two node adjust-

ment strategies SamplingSC and SamplingHCSC as

outlined in Algorithm 2 and 3.

Algorithm 2 : SamplingSC (random sampling with soft

constraints).

1: repeat

2: θ

rand

← a randomly chosen conﬁguration in C

3: until θ

rand

H

4: θ

new

← θ

rand

5: for i ← 1, ..., k do

6: d ← N (0, r

∗

)

7: θ

i

← a random conﬁguration at distance d from θ

rand

8: if θ

i

H and cost(θ

i

) < cost(θ

new

) then

9: θ

new

← θ

i

10: end if

11: end for

12: return θ

new

Algorithm 3: SamplingHCSC (random sampling with hill-

climbing soft constraint satisfaction).

1: repeat

2: θ

rand

← a randomly chosen conﬁguration in C

3: until θ

rand

H

4: θ

new

← θ

rand

5: u ← a random direction

6: for i ← 1, ..., k do

7: θ

i

← move θ

new

in the direction of u by step size

d

step

8: if θ

i

H and cost(θ

i

) < cost(θ

new

) then

9: θ

new

← θ

i

10: else

11: return θ

new

12: end if

13: end for

14: return θ

new

In SamplingSC, for each randomly generated node

θ

new

that satisﬁes all the hard constraints, a user spec-

iﬁes the number k of attempts to adjust θ

new

to re-

duce the soft cost. New samples are generated in

θ

new

’s neighborhood according to the normal distri-

bution N (0, r

∗

), where the scale r

∗

(similar with the

radius r used to in Algorithm 1) is chosen based on the

assumed local complexity of the conﬁguration space.

Each of these new samples is ﬁrst tested for compli-

ICAART2013-InternationalConferenceonAgentsandArtificialIntelligence

132

ance with the hard constraints (collision free in most

cases). If the test passes then the soft constraints are

applied. The valid node with minimum cost (i.e. it

satisﬁes soft constraints the most) from this sample is

then added in the roadmap.

Note that during the node adjustment step k nodes

are not added to the roadmap. Rather, each node is

augmented up to k times while retaining ﬁxed the to-

tal number of nodes. Choosing k is an application-

speciﬁc issue. On the one hand, k should not be too

small, because we want to give our planner a good

chance to make an improvement. On the other hand,

making k too large increases the running time unnec-

essarily. In essence we assume that within some ra-

dius (deﬁned by r

∗

) of a node, there exists a com-

mon homotopic path. In this work we assume a sin-

gle r

∗

but clearly it would be possible to set r

∗

= f(θ)

for complex non-homogeneousenvironments or to set

r

∗

= g(n) according to the density of the sampling.

SamplingHCSC is a greedy strategy that can be

considered as an alternative to SamplingSC. Instead

of attempting to reduce the cost of a sample once, the

SamplingHCSC iterates the maximum of k steps to-

ward a random direction u until a hard constraint is

violated or the cost stops decreasing. The random di-

rection u incorporates all of the degrees of freedom of

the robot.

Once the roadmap R is constructed, ﬁnding a

path between θ

init

and θ

goal

involves connecting these

points to R . If they do not belong to the same con-

nected component, then more nodes need to be gen-

erated for R to connect the components to which θ

init

and θ

goal

belong. If this cannot be accomplished after

a maximal number of trials then failure is reported.

Otherwise, it proceeds to the next phase: extracting

an optimal path from R . Given the nature of the cost

function of paths, it is possible to use Dijkstra’s al-

gorithm (Kim et al., 2003) to ﬁnd the minimum cost

path in R from θ

init

to θ

goal

.

5 POSTPROCESSING WITH

SOFT CONSTRAINTS

Path smoothing is a commonly used post-processing

method that improves a found path. Path pruning and

shortcut heuristics are common path smoothing tech-

niques for creating shorter and smoother paths. The

shortcut method tries to iteratively improve the path

by replacing a part of the path with a shorter local

path. In each iteration, the path is randomly split in

three parts. Let a and b denote the begin and end

conﬁgurations of the middle part. If the local path

LP(a, b) is collision-free, then the local path replaces

the middle part. Due to their simplicity, shortcut algo-

rithms have been widely used to improve the quality

of paths computed by randomized planners (Geraerts

and Overmars, 2007).

The goal of traditional shortcutting method is to

ﬁnd a shorter path that is in the same homotopy class

of an existing path. However, this can bring the robot

close to an obstacle or violate other soft constraints.

We augment the shortcut algorithm with soft con-

straints (shown in Algorithm 4) which compares the

cost of the new local path and the original part of the

path before replacement. We expect that this method

will be slower than the original heuristic as the cost

comparison takes extra computing time. However, we

expect that the resultant path will be more practical.

Algorithm 4: Shortcut with Soft Constraints (discrete path

P = θ

0

, θ

1

, ...θ

m−1

).

1: loop

2: a, b ← two random indices in [0, m) and (a < b)

3: P

1

← θ

0

, ...θ

a−1

4: P

2

← θ

a

, ...θ

b

5: P

3

← θ

b+1

, ...θ

m−1

6: if LP(θ

a

, θ

b

) H and cost(LP(θ

a

, θ

b

)) < cost(P

2

)

then

7: P ← P

1

∪ LP(θ

a

, θ

b

) ∪ P

3

8: end if

9: end loop

6 EXPERIMENTAL VALIDATION

This section describes experiments of the algorithm

using a real tentacle robot and its simulation. The

planar tentacle robot is composed of ten Robotis Dy-

namixel AX-12 servos (Figure 1). The robot is ap-

proximately 67cm long when it lies straight. One end

of the robot is ﬁxed and rollers have been installed to

reduce friction between the robot and the table top.

The algorithms were implemented within Lavalle’s

Motion Strategy Library (LaValle, 2006), and run on

a Mac running OS X with 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo

processor and 2 GB memory.

Only one single soft constraint (SCO, JLA, and

PEE as discussed in Section 3) is considered in each

experiment. The penalty weight for each soft con-

straint is set to 1. The thresholds are set as follows:

λ

sco

= 15, λ

jla

= 50, λ

pee

= 1000.

Comparisons between the basic path planning and

path planning with soft constraints minimizing a cost

function are illustrated in Figure 2. The scene shows

a simulation of the tentacle robot operating in a

workspace comprising two obstacles. The path plan-

ners attempt to compute possible paths that takes the

PlanningPracticalPathsforTentacleRobots

133

(a)

(b)

(c)

(d)

Figure 2: Path planning in a workspace with two rectangular obstacles. Comparison between (a) basic path planning; (b) path

planning with soft constraints keeping safe clearance from obstacles (SCO); (c) path planning with soft constraints avoiding

joint limits (JLA); (d) path planning with soft constraints maximizing precision of the end-effector (PEE).

(a)

(b)

Figure 3: Path planning in the absence of obstacles. Comparison between (a) basic path planning and (b) Path planning with

soft constraints maximizing the precision of end-effector (PEE).

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(a)

(b)

Figure 4: Snapshots of the tentacle robot executing the paths computed by: (a) basic path planning and (b) Path planning with

soft constraints maximizing the precision of end-effector (PEE).

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(a) (b) (c)

Figure 5: Cost comparison of the paths found by PRM and SamplingSC, when the soft constraints are: (a) SCO; (b) JLA;

(c) PEE. Cost of the path is measured as the summation of the binary cost of the conﬁgurations along the discretized path.

Results are averaged for 20 independent runs for each case. Standard deviations are shown.

robot from the lower space to the upper one while

avoiding obstacles. Figure 2(a) shows a path com-

puted by the traditional PRM followed by the tradi-

tional shortcut method. The path is correct and is

relatively short. Figure 2(b) shows a path computed

by our path planner minimizing SCO, which encour-

ages to keep the robot a minimum distance away from

the obstacles. Figure 2(c) shows a path minimizing

JLA, which tries to minimize the deviation between

each joint. Therefore the robot becomes straight when

passing the gap between the two obstacles.

In practice the precision of tentacle robots is a crit-

ical issue for it to accomplish tasks and the precision

issue becomes more critical when the robot has more

joints. Here we use PEE as the soft constraint in path

planning and try to ﬁnd paths that the robot can fol-

low more precisely. As discussed in Section 3 we

can increase the precision of the end-effector by re-

ducing the maximum singular value σ

max

of the Jaco-

bian matrix. It has been observed that σ

max

is max-

imized when the robot is straight, and it decreases

when the robot bends. A result path is shown in Fig-

ure 2(c). The difference is more obvious in the case

shown in Figure 3 where there is no obstacle in the

scene. Most path planners will compute a path shown

in Figure 3(a) that directly takes the path from the start

to the goal while the robot stays straight all the way.

However, maximizing the PEE gives a more complex

solution as shown in Figure 3(b). The effectiveness

of the method was further validated on the real ten-

tacle robot, to which we passed different computed

paths and it shows that our method outperforms ba-

sic PRM in terms of precision of the robot in practice.

See Figure 4 for snapshots from the executionof these

experiments.

To test our algorithm’s performance on differ-

ent soft constraints, we compare the practical path

alghorithm with the basic PRM using the problem

shown in Figure 2. We compare the SamplingSC al-

gorithm with a single soft constraint applied against

the basic PRM. Each algorithm was tested with vari-

ous numbers of seed points as described in Figure 5.

By sampling with soft constraints the average cost of

the path is decreased signiﬁcantly when compared to

the basic PRM in all the three cases. The SamplingSC

method also shows more stability (smaller standard

PlanningPracticalPathsforTentacleRobots

135

0

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PRM

SamplingSC-SCO

SamplingSC-JLA

SamplingSC-PEE

Figure 6: Comparison of the running time of the basic PRM

and SamplingSC with soft constraints being SCO, JLA and

PEE. Results are averaged for 20 independent runs for each

case. Standard deviations are shown.

deviations) than the basic PRM in the path quality

they achieve. Figure 6 compares the running time of

constructing the basic PRM and the roadmap with dif-

ferent soft constraints for the test model. It shows that

the roadmap generation with soft constraints takes

more time to compute than the PRM algorithm since

the node adjustment involves an increased number of

collision checks and computation to check the soft

constraints.

7 SUMMARY AND FUTURE

WORK

Path planning is an important but intractable prob-

lem in Robotics. Sampling-based path planning al-

gorithms are successful in solving high-dimensional

problems. However, their ability to ﬁnd paths that

meet certain soft constraints is still limited. In many

applications, it is also required to ﬁnd a path that is

safer or more precise than other alternative paths.

This paper describes an approach to the problem

of planning practical paths for tentacle robots in terms

of soft constraints and develops sample adjustment

strategies for sampling-based path planners to take

into account these soft constraints. The planner ad-

justs each randomly generated node in a random di-

rection within its local neighborhood to increase its

practicality (i.e. reduce its cost). Then the new node

with competitive practicality replaces the initial node

in the roadmap.

We have shown the effectiveness of our approach

using both a simulated and real tentacle robot. Three

soft constraints are used separately in the test model.

Although the resultant path is not optimal due to the

randomness of the planner, it shows signiﬁcant im-

provement over the path computed by the basic PRM.

Currently we only considered node-level soft con-

straints to express the practicality of each node, i.e.

a conﬁguration of the robot. For many problems the

transition of the adjacent conﬁgurations should also

meet certain requirements, such as the smoothness of

the transition and the acceleration of the movement.

Ongoing work includes developing path planners to

address such edge-level practicality issues.

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