Carpenter's rule problem

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The carpenter's rule problem is a discrete geometry problem, which can be stated in the following manner: Can a simple planar polygon be moved continuously to a position where all its vertices are in convex position, so that the edge lengths and simplicity are preserved along the way? A closely related problem is to show that any polygon can be convexified, that is, continuously transformed, preserving edge distances and avoiding crossings, into a convex polygon.

Both problems were successfully solved by Connelly, Demaine & Rote (2000).

Streinu's work[edit]

Subsequently to their work, Ileana Streinu provided a simplified combinatorial proof formulated in the terminology of robot arm motion planning. Both the original proof and Streinu's proof work by finding non-expansive motions of the input, continuous transformations such that no two points ever move towards each other. Streinu's version of the proof adds edges to the input to form a pointed pseudotriangulation, removes one added convex hull edge from this graph, and shows that the remaining graph has a one-parameter family of motions in which all distances are nondecreasing. By repeatedly applying such motions, one eventually reaches a state in which no further expansive motions are possible, which can only happen when the input has been straightened or convexified.

Streinu & Whiteley (2005) provide an application of this result to the mathematics of paper folding: they describe how to fold any single-vertex origami shape using only simple non-self-intersecting motions of the paper. Essentially, this folding process is a time-reversed version of the problem of convexifying a polygon of length smaller than π, but on the surface of a sphere rather than in the Euclidean plane. This result was extended by Panina & Streinu (2010) for spherical polygons of edge length smaller than 2π.

See also[edit]

  • Curve-shortening flow, a continuous transformation of a closed curve in the plane that eventually convexifies it