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Home | Seminars and Symposia | Past seminars/symposia: Tuesday, September 26, 2006

DTC Science and Technology Innovators Lecture Series

Randomized Motion Planning: From Intelligent CAD to Computer Animation to Protein Folding


Nancy Amato
Department of Computer Science
Texas A&M University

Tuesday, September 26, 2006
4:30 p.m. reception
5:00 p.m. seminar

402 Walter Library

Nancy Amato Motion planning arises in many application domains such as computer animation (digital actors), mixed reality systems and intelligent CAD (virtual prototyping and training), and even computational biology and chemistry (protein folding and drug design). Surprisingly, a single class of planners, called probabilistic roadmap methods (PRMs), have proven effective on problems from all these domains. Strengths of PRMs, in addition to versatility, are simplicity and efficiency, even in high-dimensional configuration spaces. In this talk, we describe the PRM framework and give an overview of several PRM variants developed in our group. We describe in more detail our work related to virtual prototyping, computer animation, and protein folding. For virtual prototyping, we show that in some cases a hybrid system incorporating both an automatic planner and haptic user input leads to superior results. For computation animation, we describe new PRM-based techniques for planning sophisticated group behaviors such as flocking and herding. Finally, we describe our application of PRMs to simulate molecular motions, such as protein and RNA folding. More information regarding our work, including movies, can be found at


Nancy M. Amato is a professor of Computer Science at Texas A&M University. She received B.S. and A.B. degrees in Mathematical Sciences and Economics, respectively, from Stanford University, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, respectively. She was an AT&T Bell Laboratories PhD Scholar, she is a recipient of a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, and she is a Distinguished Lecturer for the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. She served as an Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Robotics and Automation and of the IEEE Transactions on Parallel and Distributed Systems, she serves on review panels for NIH and NSF, and she regularly serves on conference organizing and program committees. She is a member of the Computing Research Association's Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) and she co-directs the CRA-W's Distributed Mentor Program ( Her main areas of research focus are motion planning, computational biology and geometry, and high-performance computing. Current projects include the development of a new technique for approximating protein folding pathways and energy landscapes, and STAPL, a parallel C++ library enabling the development of efficient, portable parallel programs.