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ATAN2_SAFE

version 1.0.0.0 (6.85 KB) by Zhigang Xu
To perform the same function as Matlab built-in function atan2 but safely guarded against erroneous

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Updated 07 Jul 2008

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This will perform the same function as Matlab built-in function ATAN2 but
safely guarded against erroneous results when the inputs are very small (near to a machine zero).

Due to the round off errors in the numerical calculations, the two
inputs to ATAN2, Y and X, had better be thought as

x=x_exact + (or -) rand*eps;

y=y_exact + (or -) rand*eps;

When the theoretically expected values x_exact and y_exact are
far above the machine accuracy, ATAN2 will give you a good
answer, insensitive to the small unpredictable round off errors.
On the other hand, when one or both of the theoretical values is
zero, ATAN2 becomes very sensitive to the round off errors and
will give an erroneous result. Consider the case where
both x_exact and y_exact are zero, then the call to ATAN2 is
equivalent to the following random experiment

x=(rand-0.5)/0.5*eps;

y=(rand-0.5)/0.5*eps;

theta=atan2(y, x);

Now theta becomes a random number ranging all over between
-pi and pi. (This should apply to ATAN as well).

Since ATAN2(0,0) will give an exact zero, and since the round-off
errors due to the machine accuracy cannot be meaningfully
distinguished from the true zero, we had better clear off (zero out)
the small round off errors before we call ATAN2. To relieve you
from the cleaning burden every time when you need to call ATAN2,
ATAN2_safe automates the cleaning and the calling two steps
for you.

Cite As

Zhigang Xu (2020). ATAN2_SAFE (https://www.mathworks.com/matlabcentral/fileexchange/20134-atan2_safe), MATLAB Central File Exchange. Retrieved .

Comments and Ratings (6)

Zhigang Xu

ATAN2 is fine if you can be watchful each time for its small inputs, whereas, as has been said above, "To relieve you from the cleaning burden every time when you need to call ATAN2, ATAN2_safe automates the cleaning and the calling two steps for you."

Matt Fig

Actually atan2 is fine. The source of the error in your example is this line:

[x2 y2 z2] = sph2cart(t2, p2, r2); % step 5b

The value of y2 should equal zero but there are round-off errors occurring. If you simply assign y2 = 0 after this line in your example, you will see that t1 is back at zero as expected. This has nothing to do with atan2.

Zhigang Xu

Example:

The following example will illustrate how an unacceptable result arrives in a practical calculation if we are not aware of the pitfall in calling ATAN2 with small arguments (or "fuzzy zeros" so to called).

First, prepare a simple rotation matrix,

clear
beta = -1/18*pi;
R=[cos(beta) 0 sin(beta); 0 1 0; -sin(beta) 0 cos(beta)];

which has a property that R'*R==eye(3) is true (within the machine
accuracy of course).

Then, consider a trip which starts from the North Pole (0, pi/2),
and ends at (t2, p2), as performed by the following steps:

t1=0; p1=pi/2; %step 0
[x1 y1 z1]=sph2cart(t1, p1, 1); %step 1a
v1=[x1 y1 z1].'; %step 2a
v2=R*v1; %step 3a
x2=v2(1); y2=v2(2); z2=v2(3); %step 4a
[t2 p2 r2]=cart2sph(x2, y2, z2); %step 5a

Now consider to go back home. We can reverse the above
operations step-by-step, since each of the operations is
reversible mathematically.

[x2 y2 z2]=sph2cart(t2, p2, r2); % step 5b
v2=[x2 y2 z2].'; % step 4b
v1=R'*v2; % step 3b
x1=v1(1); y1=v1(2); z1=v1(3); % step 2b
[t1 p1 r1]=cart2sph(x1, y1, z1); % step 1b

Now you will find that t1=0.1893 radians (=10.84 deg), whereas its
original value is 0. The error is too big to accept. If this
round-trip was for the Santa-Clause, he would have a hard time to
find the front entrance of his house when he comes back from his
Christmas gifts giving trip.

The source of the problem is the ATAN2 used inside of cart2sph,
the code of which is copied as follows,

function [az,elev,r] = cart2sph(x,y,z)

hypotxy = hypot(x,y);
r = hypot(hypotxy,z);
elev = atan2(z,hypotxy);
az = atan2(y,x);

In the step 1b, the input of x1 and y1 have become "fuzzy zeros",
x1=1.1102e-016, y1= 2.1266e-017, they cannot recover
the clear zero (the integer zero) after all those numerical
operations. When cart2sph passes the fuzzy zeros to
atan2 inside, the erroneous angle for t1 arrives.

If you use ATAN2_safe instead,
t1=atan2_safe(y1, x1); disp(t1)
you will see t1=0.

Zhigang Xu

Due to the round off errors in the numerical calculations, the two
inputs to ATAN2, Y and X, had better be thought as

x=x_exact + (or -) rand*eps;

y=y_exact + (or -) rand*eps;

When the theoretically expected values x_exact and y_exact are
far above the machine accuracy, ATAN2 will give you a good
answer, insensitive to the small unpredictable round off errors.
On the other hand, when one or both of the theoretical values is
zero, ATAN2 becomes very sensitive to the round off errors and
will give an erroneous result. Consider the case where
both x_exact and y_exact are zero, then the call to ATAN2 is
equivalent to the following random experiment

x=(rand-0.5)/0.5*eps;

y=(rand-0.5)/0.5*eps;

theta=atan2(y, x);

Now theta becomes a random number ranging all over between
-pi and pi. (This should apply to ATAN as well).

Since ATAN2(0,0) will give an exact zero, and since the round-off
errors due to the machine accuracy cannot be meaningfully
distinguished from the true zero, we had better clear off (zero out)
the small round off errors before we call ATAN2. To relieve you
from the cleaning burden every time when you need to call ATAN2,
ATAN2_safe automates the cleaning and the calling two steps
for you.

John D'Errico

Since atan2 does not yield erroneous results near zero, this function takes a well behaved utility and reduces it to one which is not well behaved.

atan2(eps,eps)
ans =
0.7854

This is as it should be.

I'd agree with Duane. atan2_safe is hardly safe. In fact, it introduces a new discontinuity at the arbitrary boundary chosen by the author.

The help does not even suggest what problems this code is intended to surmount. It lacks argument descriptions on the input or output side. And it uses the function zero_out_smalls, forcing the user to hunt down an additional function on the file exchange that does something absolutely, completely trivial.

Duane Hanselman

Contains only the code:
X=zero_out_smalls(X);
Y=zero_out_smalls(Y);
alpha=atan2(Y,X);
but does not include the required zero_out_smalls M-file. Help text is not at all helpful. No H1 line. No description of input arguments required. No explanation of what exactly is wrong with the built in atan2. If atan2 has problems with small input arguments, what are those problems?

Updates

1.0.0.0

The help message is improved.

Detailed explanations are provided why it is necessary to have a safe version of atan2. An example is also provided.

MATLAB Release Compatibility
Created with R2008a
Compatible with any release
Platform Compatibility
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