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Robert Bryant : The Concept of Holonomy



In the 19th century, people began to study mechanical systems in which motion in a configuration space was constrained by 'no slip' conditions, such as, for example, a wheel or a ball rolling on a plane without slipping. It was immediately noticed that there were many cases in which these 'rolling' constraints did not prevent one from being able to join any two points in a configuration space by an admissible path, and these situations were called 'non-holonomic'. The notion of 'holonomy' arose as a way to quantify and study these 'non-holonomic' systems, and it has turned out to be very fruitful, with many applications in differential geometry and mathematical physics as well as in practical mechanics problems (such as figuring out how to use robot hands to manipulate 3-dimensional objects). In this talk, I'll introduce the ideas that led to the development of the concept of holonomy, show how some simple examples are computed, and describe how even very simple systems, such as a convex surface rolling over another surface without slipping or twisting, can lead to some surprising and exceptional geometry. No expertise in differential geometry will be assumed; if you are comfortable with vector calculus, you can enjoy the talk.

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