Keenan Crane

CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY

The Heat Method for Distance Computation

Communications of the ACM (2017)

We introduce the *heat method* for solving the single- or multiple-source shortest path problem on both flat and curved domains. A key insight is that distance computation can be split into two stages: first find the direction along which distance is increasing, then compute the distance itself. The heat method is robust, efficient, and simple to implement since it is based on solving a pair of standard sparse linear systems. These systems can be factored once and subsequently solved in near-linear time, substantially reducing amortized cost. Real-world performance is an order of magnitude faster than state-of-the-art methods, while maintaining a comparable level of accuracy. The method can be applied in any dimension, and on any domain that admits a gradient and inner product—including regular grids, triangle meshes, and point clouds. Numerical evidence indicates that the method converges to the exact distance in the limit of refinement; we also explore smoothed approximations of distance suitable for applications where greater regularity is desired.

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Additional Notes

None of the current implementations of the heat method (listed on this page) fully exploit its potential for speed or accuracy. To substantially improve performance on multi-core or GPU-based systems, one need only link against a parallel sparse linear solver that can handle symmetric positive-definite systems. (One might also parallelize matrix construction.) To further improve accuracy, one can incorporate the very nice iterative scheme of Belyaev & Fayolle from their paper On Variational and PDE-Based Distance Function Approximations. Like the heat method, this scheme lends itself nicely to prefactorization (hence low amortized cost relative to fast marching/fast sweeping or window-based methods), and would be easy to implement on top of the existing reference implementation.

For a very cool application of the heat method, see Floraform.

It is also possible to use the heat method to solve the single- or multiple-source shortest path problem on general graphs.

Presentation

@article{Crane:2017:HMD,
author = {Crane, Keenan and Weischedel, Clarisse and Wardetzky, Max},
title = {The Heat Method for Distance Computation},
journal = {Commun. ACM},
issue_date = {November 2017},
volume = {60},
number = {11},
month = oct,
year = {2017},
issn = {0001-0782},
pages = {90--99},
numpages = {10},
url = {http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/3131280},
doi = {10.1145/3131280},
acmid = {3131280},
publisher = {ACM},
address = {New York, NY, USA},
}

Source

JavaScript— | interactive version running in-browser (requires WebGL support). |

ANSI C— | optimized reference implementation written by the authors; depends on an external linear solver like CHOLMOD or HSL MA87. |

Python— | from PyCortex package for cortical processing (Alex Huth/Gallant Lab) |

MATLAB— | from Gabriel Peyré's Numerical Tours |

Mathematica— | answer by John Dunlop on StackExchange |

Mathematica— | written by Henrik Schumacher. |

C++— | from StarLab |

C++— | from our SIGGRAPH course) |

Unity— [Mac] [Windows] [Linux] | Cool interactive demo by Ruoqi He & Chia-Man Hung from Ecole Polytechnique. |

This work was funded by a Google PhD Fellowship and a grant from the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft. Thanks to Michael Herrmann for inspiring discussions, and Ulrich Pinkall for discussions about Lemma 1. Meshes are provided courtesy of the Stanford Computer Graphics Laboratory, the AIM@Shape Repository, Luxology LLC, and Jotero GbR.

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