Motion planning is a term used in robotics for the process of breaking down a desired movement task into discrete motions that satisfy movement constraints and possibly optimize some aspect of the movement.
For example, consider a mobile robot navigating inside a building to a distant waypoint. It should execute this task while avoiding walls and not falling down stairs. A motion planning algorithm would take a description of these tasks as input, and produce the speed and turning commands sent to the robot’s wheels. Motion planning algorithms might address robots with a larger number of joints (e.g., industrial manipulators), more complex tasks (e.g. manipulation of objects), different constraints (e.g., a car that can only drive forward), and uncertainty (e.g. imperfect models of the environment or robot).
As another example, consider navigating one or more unmanned aircraft or drones in a cluttered indoor or outdoor environment. The same motion planning strategies can still be applied in a 3D space with environmental disturbances, such as wind and bad weather.
Motion planning has several robotics applications, such as autonomy, automation, and robot design in CAD software, as well as applications in other fields, such as animating digital characters, video game, artificial intelligence, architectural design, robotic surgery, and the study of biological molecules.