When a battery-powered robot needs to operate for a long period of time, optimizing its energy consumption becomes critical. Driving motors are a major source of power consumption for mobile robots. In this paper, we study the problem of finding optimal paths and velocity profiles for car-like robots so as to minimize the energy consumed during motion. We start with an established model for energy consumption of DC motors. We first study the problem of finding the energy optimal velocity profiles, given a path for the robot. We present closed form solutions for the unconstrained case and for the case where there is a bound on maximum velocity. We then study a general problem of finding an energy optimal path along with a velocity profile, given a starting and goal position and orientation for the robot. Along the path, the instantaneous velocity of the robot may be bounded as a function of its turning radius, which in turn affects the energy consumption. Unlike minimum length paths, minimum energy paths may contain circular segments of varying radii. We show how to efficiently construct a graph which generalizes Dubins' paths by including segments with arbitrary radii. Our algorithm uses the closed-form solution for the optimal velocity profiles as a subroutine to find the minimum energy trajectories, up to a fine discretization. We investigate the structure of energy-optimal paths and highlight instances where these paths deviate from the minimum length Dubins' curves. In addition, we present a calibration method to find energy model parameters. Finally, we present results from experiments conducted on a custom-built robot for following optimal velocity profiles.
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Acknowledgments This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 0916209, 0917676 and 0936710.