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Given a Point $P\in\mathbb{R}^3$ is there a way to compute the foot of a dropped perpendicular to line $l = \vec{a} + x\vec{b}$ with $x\in\mathbb{R}$?

There is one constraint here: I want to compute it with a computer program. Thus, a set of linear equations should be avoided.

My own thoughts so far:

A line has no unique perpendicular in $\mathbb{R}^3$. That's why we can't easily construct a perpendicular from the get-go. But we can construct a helping plane $H$ that's perpendicular to $l$: $$H: \left(\vec{r}\cdot\frac{\vec{b}}{\left\|\vec{b}\right\|}\right) - d = 0$$ with $d = \vec{a}\cdot\frac{\vec{b}}{\left\|\vec{b}\right\|}$.

We now could apply the line to this equation: $$H: \left(\left(\vec{a} + x\vec{b}\right)\cdot\frac{\vec{b}}{\left\|\vec{b}\right\|}\right) - d = 0$$

Here I am completely stuck because I can't come up with a computational solution to solve for $x$.

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

You seem to go through a lot of trouble when the naive way does work:

So you are looking for a point $Q$ on the line, say $Q=a+qb$, such that $P-Q$ is orthogonal to $b$, i.e. $\left<P-Q,b\right>=0$. Plugging things together we get:


or equivalently


So just compute this $q$ and then the foot will be $Q=a+qb$.

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I knew I was over-thinking it, but could find an easier way. Thanks! – alnkpa Aug 28 '12 at 15:14

Suppose the foot of the perpendicular is the point $\vec q = \vec a + x_q\vec b$. Then you want $\vec p - \vec q$ to be perpendicular to $\vec b$. So $(\vec p - \vec q)\cdot\vec b = 0$. Solve for $x_q$ and thus obtain $\vec q$.

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