The decision problem

The sentences in (6.10) and (6.11) lead to an interesting problem. Consider the set of all Tarski sentences that have no free variables. The subset of these that are TRUE comprise the first-order theory of the reals. Can an algorithm be developed to determine whether such a sentence is true? This is called the decision problem for the first-order theory of the reals. At first it may appear hopeless because $ {\mathbb{R}}^n$ is uncountably infinite, and an algorithm must work with a finite set. This is a familiar issue faced throughout motion planning. The sampling-based approaches in Chapter 5 provided one kind of solution. This idea could be applied to the decision problem, but the resulting lack of completeness would be similar. It is not possible to check all possible points in $ {\mathbb{R}}^n$ by sampling. Instead, the decision problem can be solved by constructing a combinatorial representation that exactly represents the decision problem by partitioning $ {\mathbb{R}}^n$ into a finite collection of regions. Inside of each region, only one point needs to be checked. This should already seem related to cell decompositions in motion planning; it turns out that methods developed to solve the decision problem can also conquer motion planning.

Steven M LaValle 2012-04-20