MATLAB Answers


Fast 2D distance calculation

Asked by Neuropragmatist on 29 Jul 2019
Latest activity Commented on by Neuropragmatist on 3 Aug 2019
Hi all,
Many of the codes I am currently using depend on a simple calculation: the distance between a single point and a set of other points.
In one example, using the matlab profiler I see that this single calculation takes 50% of the total function time, so I would like to optimise it as far as possible.
I have looked around and haven't found anything more optimal than:
p1 = rand(1,2); % single point
pn = rand(1000000,2); % random points
d = sqrt(sum((p1-pn).^2,2)); % calculate the distance between these
Does anyone else have a clever idea that would optimise this - even just by a tiny fraction? Is there any way to speed these calculations up on the GPU or using a mex? I would be really happy to see any suggestions.
I suspect this might be already be as mathematically simple as possible, but I'm frustrated because I need to calculate this a lot.
I have already vectrorised my code as far as possible.
Thanks for any help,


on 29 Jul 2019
How long is this taking you exactly? When I ran it with the profiler on (i.e. in normal usage it should be faster) the distance calculation took 0.027s on your given example.
Well the example is just a toy to show what I have come up with so far.
In reality I have to compute the distance between 60000x2 points (minimum) and a 1x2 point 2704 times and I have to do this about 40000 times.
Just doing this once takes my function 10s and 50% of that is purely the line computing the distance equation, so obviously cutting that down would help me a lot time wise.
Unfortunately there is no way for me to this vectorally or in a pairwise way because the number of points varies a lot and can easily require too much memory to compute in a pairwise fashion.
Hope this makes more sense,
I have run the following code several times and I get slightly different results:
xi = 1:.5:8;
t1 = NaN(1,8);
t2 = NaN(1,8);
for p = 1:length(xi)
p1 = rand(1,2);
pn = rand(ceil(10^xi(p)),2);
d1 = sqrt(sum((pn-p1).^2,2));
t1(p) = toc;
d2 = pdist2(p1,pn);
t2(p) = toc;
Which probably suggests that any differences in time between pdist2 and manual calculation are negligible and more dependent on the current background state of the CPU.
However, generally the manual calculation is slightly faster or both methods are the same.

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2 Answers

Matt J
Answer by Matt J
on 29 Jul 2019
Edited by Matt J
on 29 Jul 2019

If you have the Parallel Computing Toolbox, you can execute the computations on the GPU just by building p1 and pn as gpuArrays. That should definitely speed things up.
p1 = gpuArray.rand(1,2);
pn = gpuArray.rand(1000000,2);
d = sqrt(sum((p1-pn).^2,2));
toc %Elapsed time is 0.001429 seconds.


I looked into this and it seems that my (work) PC only has a crappy integrated GPU that is not Matlab compatible...
Matt J
on 29 Jul 2019
Well, I don't think the question can be taken any further until we know what parallel computing resources you do have, or can remote connect to. I think you are at the limits of performance already with standard Matlab.

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Answer by Joss Knight
on 3 Aug 2019

pdist2 is the usual way to do this, if you have Statistics and Machine Learning Toolbox.


From what I have read, computing the distance directly using the equation is faster than using pdist or pdist2 as it avoids the overheads involved with calling the function.
I don't know if this remains true if you are computing pairwise distances, but I only need to know the distance from one point to many other points.
But pdist2 does that. Input x is a 1-by-2 vector, and input y is an N-by-2 array of N points.
You may be right that it is no faster than implementing it manually.

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