RSS Workshop: Topology meets Robotics

Proposed event to be held in conjunction with Robotics: Science and Systems 2021 (RSS 2021)

Several important advances in robotics over the past few decades drew from algebraic and differential topology. Examples include navigation (Navigation Functions), SLAM (topological SLAM), multi-robot systems (homotopy/homology, braids), manipulation (knot theory) and robot design and control (configuration spaces, composition of symbols). The elegance of topological representations offers symbolic and analytical abstractions of complex systems and behaviors. Such abstractions enable robotic systems to perform reasoning at a higher level, affording a level of interpretability that is difficult to engineer with alternative tools. Further, their compact form opens up the potential for computational efficiency gains. These features often enable the formulation of formal characterization of domains where robotic systems are guaranteed to work reliably.

Topology has already played a prevalent role in other disciplines including dynamical systems, data analysis and machine learning. These applications have led to new tools and software that could be broadly applicable to a wide range of engineering problems. However, such tools are often inaccessible to roboticists due to their steep learning curve, the extensive mathematical background required, or just the lack of crosstalk across the disciplines. Furthermore, the current applicability of topological methods is frequently limited to simple environments, as scaling to high dimensional settings often requires the development of new theoretical tools. This pushes robotics researchers to alternative algorithms and approaches, which may offer practical results in selected situations but lack formal guarantees and interpretable behavior.

This workshop aims to bring together:

  1. roboticists already working with topological techniques, seeking to pose new questions and present solutions to existing hard problems from a topological perspective and/or offer associated tools.
  2. researchers broadly working with analytical and computational methods in robotics, interested in obtaining a different view about hard problems in the field and looking for available solutions.
  3. a broader audience from different disciplines, applying topological techniques to computational problems in different fields.

Our goal is to motivate an interactive exchange that will expose roboticists to topological tools that could be relevant to their applications toward accelerating progress in the field. Through a discussion-driven workshop, we seek to lay the foundations for organizing a community of researchers at the interface of topology and robotics.

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