Detailed Research Interests

1.0 Constrained Motion Planning 

Mobile robots, at least wheeled ones, are trickier than manipulators in many fundamental ways. First, they are described adequately only by differential equations - rather than kinematic ones. Second, those kinematic equations are subject to constraints - its constrained dynamics. Third, those constraints are "nonholonomic" meaning they cannot be integrated (not all equations can be integrated in closed form). Fourth, the constraints are not satisfied as soon as the wheels begin to slip and characterizing slip is even harder! Motion planning for mobile robots is a search problem in the continuum of path space subject to differential constraints. You figure that stuff out every time you park your car.

1.1 Lattice Planner

The development of the lattice planner [pdf] concept is really an effort in search space design rather than motion planning. By exploiting our general trajectory generatordescribed below, we are able to construct search spaces for motion planning which are inherently feasible - meaning the robot can execute the paths encoded in the lattice directly. The lattice is a regular array of states in state space - each of which is joined to its local neighbors by a repeating arrangement of dynamically feasible edges. This type of planner is perfect for wheeled mobile robots because their nonholonomic constraints are satisfied by default in the search space, so planning becomes simply a search process - with no constraints to worry about. Intricate multi point turns in very dense obstacle fields become easy to generate with this approach. The image opposite shows a lattice for the Reeds-Shepp car showing one maneuver that is encoded in the space. Click the image opposite to see a mars rover navigate its way home using the lattice planner. The lattice planner was the basis of the parking lot planner used on the Darpa Urban Challenge.

Pivtoraiko, M., Kelly, A., Knepper, R., “Differentially Constrained Mobile Robot Motion
Planning in State Lattices”, Journal of Field Robotics, Volume 26 , Issue 3, (March 2009),
pp 308-333. [pdf]

1.2 Trajectory Generator

Our work in trajectory generation [pdf] has, after several iterations and refinements resulted in a general approach to the problem of inverting the dynamics of any vehicle. By expressing arbitrary controls in terms of the Taylor series coefficients, we are able to convert the intrinsic optimal control problem into an equivalent constrained optimization problem. In practice, coupled with numerical linearization techniques, this means we can invert a model of any vehicle on arbitrary terrain given a predictive model of actuator response, delays, body dynamics, and wheel terrain interactions, etc. Getting such a model is a problem in itself which is discussed below in the calibration section. The figure motivates the problem for a car that needs to move far right, slightly forward and turn 90 degrees counterclockwise. Click the image to see a mars rover compensate predictively for the yaw moment caused by a stuck rear wheel. Since the trajectory generator can invert any model, this system can even invert a model that is being adapted based on experience.
Howard, T., Kelly, A., “Optimal Rough Terrain Trajectory Generation for Wheeled Mobile
Robots”, The International Journal of Robotics Research, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 141-166 (Feb
2007).  [pdf].

2.0 Advanced Controls

Controls for mobile robots are complicated by the same issues as in motion planning. The underactuation that tends to go hand-in-hand with nonholonomic constraints means that merely responding to the present errors is not a good approach. Mobile robot controls need to be predictive to prevent errors before they occur since there may be no way to actuate them away easily afterwards.

2.1 Urban Challenge Lane Following Controller

The trajectory generator was the basis of the lane following controller used on the Darpa Urban Challenge. Here, we use its capacity to generate a smooth trajectory anywhere in order to generate continuous paths which terminate precisely lined up with arbitrary lane geometry while spanning the lane. These planning options can be used to change lanes or avoid obstacles in a very natural manner. Click the image to see this controller first in simulation. Then watch it avoid a collision with the dreaded giant "Terramax" vehicle in the Urban Challenge. It would have been a very bad day for robots otherwise.

Howard, T., Green, C., Kelly, A.,Ferguson, D. “State Space Sampling of Feasible Motions for High Performance Mobile Robot Navigation in Complex Environments”, Journal of Field Robotics. Vol 25, No 6-7 June 2008, pp. 325-345.  [pdf].

2.2 Receding Horizon Path Following

Such a trajectory generator concept can also be applied to forms of optimal control including model predictive control. Here we use the same parameterization concept but apply it to optimal control directly - by minimizing the objective function. The result is a controller that can follow arbitrarily complicated trajectories that exploit the full maneuverability envelope of the platform. The system even predicts and compensates for error through velocity reversals as shown in the the figure opposite. Here the vehicle needs to turn around and exit the obstacle field in reverse. The vehicle has significant crosstrack error but the recovery control gets it rapidly back on the desired.state space trajectory.

T. Howard, C. Green, A. Kelly, “Receding Horizon Model-Predictive Control for Mobile Robot Navigation of Intricate Paths”, FSR 09. [pdf]

2.3 Original Trajectory Generation

The original concept  of parametric optimal control applied to trajectory generation is described in this older paper. Here the basic idea is developed. An unknown control in the continuum is replaced by a truncated Taylor series. This representaation can represent any curve to arbitrary accuracy, so the unknown parameters encode the whole of input space. Then, we formulate and solve the nonlinear programming problem that is induced by this substitution. Et Voila! You can compute the continuum control to drive anywhere exactly. The latter versions described above improve on the generality of this basic technique. The later version is mostly numerical - even to the point of linearizing numerically - and that means it can invert any vehicle model whatsoever.

Kelly, A., Nagy, B. "Reactive Nonholonomic Trajectory Generation via Parametric
Optimal Control", The International Journal of Robotics Research. 2003; 22: 583-601. [pdf]

2.4 Stability Margin Estimation

This work develops a unique Kalman Filter and a sensing suite that permits real time measurement of the proximity of a vehicle to motion-induced rollover. Instead of predicting rollover itself, we predict the liftoff of wheels which precedes rollover. This is easier to do while also being a more conservative approach. The basic issue is the direction of the net non-contact force relative to the support polygon formed by the wheels in contact with the terrain. Accelerometers in an inertial measurement unit (IMU) measure this vector quantity almost directly - but not quite. The issue is that we need to know the inertial force direction acting at the center of gravity (c.g.) and you can't often put an IMU right at the c.g. That means we have to transform the acceleration to the c.g. frame.  Doing that requires 3 gyroscopes (for the centrifugal and Coriolis terms) and maybe a real-time mass properties engine if the vehicle articulates or moves anything - because that would change the c.g. location. Any articulations will need to be measured and the Coriolis term requires a measurement of velocity. Thankfully, that is as complicated as it gets in general. Put all that into a Kalman filter and you have a vehicle smart enough to stop itself from rolling over on arbitrary terrain (including arbitrary slopes). Long term, any mobile robot doing real work outdoors will probably need something like this in it.

Potential applications include a safety system in any robot or any man driven vehicle that is at risk of rolling over. In the former (robot) case, an emergency stop can be issued if things get too close to wheel liftoff. It would also make sense to predict the stability margin using the same mathematics and predicted accelerations rather than measured ones - in order to be preemptive. In  the latter (human) case, speed governing can be applied to reduce the risk level but we elected to leave the human in charge of steering in our tests.

Diaz-Calderon, A., and Kelly, A., “On-line Stability Margin and Attitude Estimation for Dynamic Articulating Mobile Robots”, The International Journal of Robotics Research, Vol. 24, No. 10, 845-866 (2005) [pdf]

3.0 Human Interfaces

While fully autonomous behavior may seem like the gold standard for a robot, they are of little use unless we can communicate with them effectively. Long term doing a good job here will require innovations in speech recognition, agent modeling, and situation awareness among many other things. The work described below is focused on teleoperation - telling a robot exactly what to do as if it were a car - but doing so from perhaps thousands of kilometers away. 

3.1 Synthetic Remote Control

This recent work in robot teleoperation is a radical new approach that converts the environment around a robot instantly into a computer graphics database. That is hard to do but, once done, it makes other hard problems easy. We are able to improve remote operator situation awareness and even remove latency with this technique. The concept relies on a new sensing concept called colorized range sensing which is described below in Sensing. Click the image to see what the operator sees while driving this robot from a kilometer away over a radio data link.

The difference between teleoperation and remote control is that you look through the robot's (video) eyes in the first, and you look at the robot in the second. The second is much easier to do. Our approach converts teleoperation into synthetic remote control. The operator can drive the robot as if he were flying behind (over, around) it in a synthetic helicopter. We can look at the robot in the context of its surrounding terrain from any perspective. A synthetic overhead view is nice for driving backwards into a parking spot.

There is a patent pending on this work.

A. Kelly et al., “Real-Time Photorealistic Virtualized Reality Interface for Remote Mobile Robot Control”, to appear, The International Journal of Robotics Research. [pdf]

4.0 State Estimation

There are basically two methods of position estimation: dead reckoning and triangulation. Triangulation methods are those which associate measurements gathered on the vehicle with some prestored map of the area to produce a "fix" on the position of the vehicle. The map may encode predictions of any form of radiation at any position - like what you will see, hear, recieve on a radio antenna etc. Systems based only on dead reckoning get more and more lost over time, so some form of triangulation is almost always necessary in practice - if accurate absolute positioning is desired.

4.1 Personal Navigation

This work has developed a micro inertial navigation system for people - like a GPS for pedestrians - except it does not use GPS. The system is quite literally an implementation of the same inertial navigation algorithms used in a missle or a submarine, but it is adapted and made small enough for humans to wear. The key to high performance personal navigation is zero velocity updates (zupts). These are fake "pseudomeasurements" of zero velocity that are fed to the system when the foot is in contact with the ground. Doing so makes it possible to observe the biases on the accelerometers and two of the three gyros. The vertical gyro bias remains unobservable by this technique and that is the dominant residual source of error in many cases. We use various radars to observe vertical gyro bias and the system performance is much improved as a result.

Click the image to see a brief promotional video describing how it all works.

This paper provides a brief overview but I can't put it on the web site....

Al Kelly, Tamal Mukherjee, Gary Fedder, Dan Stancil, Amit Lal, Michael Berarducci, “Velocity Sensor Assisted Micro Inertial Measurement for GPS Denied Personal Navigation”, 2009 Joint Navigation Conference, Orlando Florida. [pdf]

4.2 Vision-Aided Inertial Navigation

Inertial navigation is the process of dead reckoning from indications of linear acceleration and angular velocity. The great thing is it works anywhere in the universe where the gravitational field is known, and it requires no infrastructure like landmarks, beacons, satellites and their associated maps. The not-so-great thing is it does not work well enough in most cases unless you have extra sensors called aiding sensors. In robotics, visual odometry is uniquely available as an aiding sensor - and it makes a big difference.

Visual odometry amounts to a differential pose observation which is essentially the same as linear and angular velocity readings once you scale by time. Velocity aiding turns the short-term cubic error growth of position variance to a linear growth . This work describes a means to fuse the data from visual odometry and inertial navigation.

J. P. Tardiff, M. George, M. Laverne, A. Kelly, A. Stentz, “A New Approach to Vision-Aided Inertial Navigation”, IROS 2010. [pdf]

4.3 Navigation from Floor Mosaics

This work describes a means to localize a mobile robot based only on the use of imagery of the floor of the building (perhaps a factory or warehouse) in which it travels. A camera is mounted underneath the vehicle. The first time the vehicle drives in the building, all the images are remembered and formed into a globally consistent mosaic. That is a problem in itself whose solution is described in the section on building maps with cycles.

Once the mosaic is constructed, the vehicle can then drive anywhere on the mosaic. The guidance system matches the floor imagery in view to the floor imagery that is predicted to be in view. It searches a limited area around its predicted location for a match. Once a match is found, it is used to resolve the small errors that accumulate in the fraction of a second that passes between image acquisitions. In this way, the system maintains a continuous visual lock on the mosaic. Click the image to see the system running a test. Notice the red laser light under the white vehicle near the end.

The system is a visual equivalent of the Global Positioning System (GPS) because it uses signal correlation in order to achieve the highest possible signal-to-noise ratio. It works even on very dirty floors provided there is enough persistent visual texture on the floor. The texture can be intrinsic to the floor design, like aggregate in concrete, or it may be scratches and imperfections that persist over time. The system was tested successfully for a week on a robot in an auto plant with kilometers of internal roadways. A custom engineered camera and lighting system is used but the basic concept will work without it. Repeatability on the order of one half pixel -  2.5 millimeters in our case - is achievable. With odometry aiding, the system can work at highway speeds. These days, you can store enough imagery to mosaic a path across the USA on a single DVD, so storage space for the mosaic is not an issue in practice.

This work is patented. Google "infrastructure independent position determining system".

Kelly, A, “Mobile Robot Localization from Large Scale Appearance Mosaics”, The International Journal of Robotics Research, 19 (11), 2000. [pdf]

5.0 Systems Theory

Building robots well is a systems engineering exercise. For example, the capacity to competently avoid obstacles at speed depends on the maximum range that the robot can competently see, how fast it can react, how good the brakes (or steering) are, and how fast it is going. Optimizing only one of these attributes is not the most effective approach; its better to work the whole problem from all angles.

This work studies the interrelationships of subsystem and system level requirements (constraints), the crafting of performance models (objectives), and highly principled and well-argued approaches to the construction of the best achievable solution. The goal is to understand what works well and why so that the governing relationships can be manipulated in order to do even better.

5.1 Path Sampling

It turns out that motion planning search spaces can be designed in order to maximize the probability of finding a solution in finite time, in arbitrary environments. This result establishes a relationship between that probability and the mutual separation of the paths that are searched. The intuition is that two paths that are always near each other are far more likely to both intersect the same obstacle so if a certain path does intersect an obstacle, it is better to search other paths next which are far away from it. In the most general case, any fixed set of candidate paths will be a better choice on average if they are maximally separated from each other.
Green, C., Kelly, A., “Toward Optimal Sampling in the Space of Paths”. 13th International Symposium of Robotics Research, ISRR 07, November, 2007,  Hiroshima, Japan, [pdf]

5.2 Odometry Error Propagation

It turns out that basic odometric dead reckoning produces a transition matrix for the linearized error dynamics that can be written in closed form.

In some sense, that means we know everything about the linearized error dynamics of odometry. Its an explicit integral. The integral shown applies to integrated heading odometry - the use of measurements of linear and angular velocity. This work establishes the fundamental error dynamics of velocity based dead reckoning - known in robotics as "odometry".  The result applies to both systematic and stochastic error dynamics and it applies to the general case of any trajectory.

The basic integrals, like the one shown, can be manipulated into moments of arc - basic geometric properties of the path itself. These moments are the fundamental mapping from sensor error onto errors in the computed solution for position and orientation - and they tell us many very interesting things:
  1. As a first order solution, the total pose error can be written as the superposition of the contributions of all error sources. 
  2. In many cases crosstrack error grows quadratically in distance or time whereas alongtrack and heading errors grow linearly. 
  3. Pose error due to velocity scale error cancels out on closed paths. 
  4. Pose error due to constant gyro bias cancels out at the dwell centroid of the path.
  5. Pose error due to gyro random noise is not necessarily monotone in time - you can actually get less lost by doing the right things.
More on this in the following paper....

Kelly, A, "Linearized Error Propagation in Vehicle Odometry", The International Journal
of Robotics Research. 2004; 23: 179-218. [pdf]

5.3 Triangulation Error Propagation

This work investigates the so-called "geometric dilution of precision" in triangulation (and trilateration) applications. This quantity governs the mapping from sensor errors to computed pose errors so it is basic to understanding triangulation systems. This work is the triangulation equivalent of the above work on odometry. The results are very distinct from odometry. Here, the governing equations are kinematic and transcendental so we don't have to deal with messy integrals. The most basic insight here is that the first order error mapping is a Jacobian matrix and any matrix produces a linear transformation of its inputs. The basic magnifying capacity of any matrix is related to its eigenvalues (length) and determinant (volume) and the determinant is arguably equal to or at least the limit of the "geometric dilution of precision" or GDOP (pronounced gee-dop). 

In simple cases, this is obvious graphically. The figure opposite is the 2D analog of GPS. The dots are the satellites and the circles are contours of constant range. The robot can be anywhere in the plane. Notice how the circles are larger on the line between the satellites and larger near the edges of the figure. All that falls naturally out of the mathematics.

Among the insights that this work produces:
  1. GDOP is infinite on the line between landmarks in most cases. That's why operating between landmarks is so poorly conditioned.
  2. Range observations are fundamentally better than angular ones from the point of view of precision. 
  3. Hyperbolic navigation is one of the most stable forms of triangulation - in the sense that GDOP varies smoothly and minimally and there are no singularities. Marine radio navigation used to be based on this principle but most systems are turned off today.

Kelly, A., “Precision Dilution in Mobile Robot Position Estimation”,  In Proceedings of Intelligent Autonomous Systems, Amsterdam, 2003. [pdf]

5.4 Perceptive Obstacle Avoidance and Mapping

This work looks at what precisely is needed, in terms of performance, for a mobile robot to be capable of avoiding obstacles at speed. One of many analyses considers the computation necessary, and how that computation requirement varies with speed. In rough terms, you have to put a few pixels on the obstacle to see it. The faster you drive, the farther away you have to see it. The farther away the obstacle, the smaller the pixels need to be - but the sensor field of view is typically fixed. Express all that in algebra and you get the graph opposite. Depending on your assumptions, the computation necessary to avoid obstacles grows with the eight power of vehicle velocity. If you are more clever about it, you can reduce the speed dependence to a merely quadratic term in velocity. In other words, doubling the speed can require 256 times as much computation or 4 times as much - depending on how you design the perception system. 

Kelly, A., Stentz, A., "Rough Terrain Autonomous Mobility – Part 1: A Theoretical Analysis of Requirements", Autonomous Robots, 5, 129-161, 1998. [pdf]

5.5 Efficiently Building Maps with Cycles

This work considers the problem of building maps from large datasets which contain relatively few cycles. In that case, some very efficient methods exist. There are many ways to formulate map building. This one uses nonlinear programming - also known as constrained optimization. The objective function to be optimized is the mismatch error at image overlaps and the constraints are the expressions that the composite transform around a closed loop must take you precisely back to where you started. In other words, the composite transform is the identity transform. When there are few constraints, it is computationally efficient to not substitute the constraints into the objective. The solution in that case is the one you use when you can't substitute the constraints into the objective - Lagrange multipliers. By keeping the constraints explicit, the matrix to be inverted remains diagonal and enforcing loop closure in very large maps of hundreds of thousands of images can be done in a fraction of a second. Extensions to incremental / recursive / on-line algorithms are possible.

Kelly, A. Unnikrishnan, R., “Efficient Construction of Optimal and Consistent Ladar Maps using Pose Network Topology and Nonlinear Programming, In Proceedings of 11th International Symposium of Robotics Research (ISRR'2003), Sienna, Italy, November 2003. [pdf]

6.0 Off-Road Mobility

Off road navigation deals with the challenge of making robots which can drive themselves competently outdoors. This problem is significantly more difficult than indoor movile robot navigation in many ways. An inadequate vehicle design will mean that even moving will be a challenge on wet soil or on slopes. Holes and cliffs may exist that cannot be seen, without tremendous effort, until its too late to avoid them. Tall grass may hide lethal objects that will ruin or entrap the tires or throw the tracks. Many natural environments are complicated mazes that are hard to solve without a map. Despite the navigation revolution of GPS, it does not work under dense tree canopy, so its also easy to get lost. Outdoor mobile robots have a lot to cope with.

6.1 PerceptOR / UPI

The PerceptOR robot was capable of impressive levels of autonomy in off-road environments. This system was tested for weeks at a time on army bases throughout the USA. The final versions of this system were used on the Crusher vehicle shown opposite and a typical day of testing included 50 kilometers of autonomous motion with human interventions required much less than once per kilometer. Click the image to see Crusher featured on Youtube.

Many researchers worked on this system and they, and their work, can be found on the RI projects pages. Look for the UPI project.

Kelly, A., et al., “Toward Reliable Off-Road Autonomous Vehicles Operating in Challenging Environments”, The International Journal of Robotics Research, Vol. 25, No. 5–6, pp. 449-483, June 2006. [pdf]

6.2 Demo II Ranger System

An early effort in UGV navigation that produced continuous obstacle avoidance at 15 kph in 1990. The Ranger system is an optimal control approach to obstacle avoidance. The objective to be minimized is deviation from a preferred trajectory which may be specified as a direction, a path, a curvature like straight ahead, etc. Obstacles in this system are not discrete spots or regions on the ground. Rather, they are regions in state space - which includes velocity, curvature etc. This approach makes it easy to incorporate things like rollover hazards into the computation. Hazards are typically treated as constraints - they do or do not eliminate certain controls from consideration. Any controls that were not eliminated are scored for utility (objective function) and the best is selected. This process is repeated at 10 Hz or so.

At high speeds, the complicated response of the vehicle to its inputs cannot be ignored. This system uses explicit forward simulation in order to ensure that vehicle dynamic models are satisfied. In other words, the system knows how long it takes to turn the steering wheel and it takes that into account. This approach means the search for the right input is conducted in input space. That makes it hard to sample effectively but sampling is not so important at this level of motion planing. The Urban Challenge lane following controller does sample effectively and it respects environmental constraints like lanes. It came later but that technique also requires more computation.  

Ranger also used many schemes to limit the computation required of perception. Notice the adaptive regions of interest in the figure opposite - these adapt automatically to the terrain geometry and vehicle speed. The result of that adaptation is more competent operation at higher speeds. A key idea here is computational stabilization of the sensor. That is a kind of active vision approach that finds the data of interest in the image with minimal computation. As computers get faster we tend to add more pixels to sensors so this technique remains relevant today.

Kelly, A., Stentz, A., "Rough Terrain Autonomous Mobility – Part 2: An Active Vision,
Predictive Control Approach", Autonomous Robots, 5, 163-198, 1998. [pdf]

7.0 Calibration and Identification

These two terms mean the process of discovering the values of unknown parameters which are used in system models. This work concentrates on the problem as it occurs in mobile robot mobility and estimation systems - that is - the calibration of differential equations that describe motion, or the measurement of motion.

Long term, mobile robots need to be able to calibrate themselves automatically - just like an infant learns how to use its own arms and legs by experimentation.

7.1 Identifying Dynamic Models

This work develops a means to calibrate the mapping between inputs (controls) and outputs (state) for a vehicle. The formulation is to model only the deviations (perturbations) from a nominal model and to assume driving disturbance inputs cause those deviations.  Both systematic and stochastic disturbances can be calibrated. Observations are formed from the differences between the system trajectory predicted based on the present model and the trajectory which was observed to occur. That is, at regular intervals, the system observes where it is now and it considers where it would have predicted itself to be now if it had predicted it a few seconds ago. These predictions involve integrating the perturbative dynamics.

The disturbances are parameterized functions of the inputs and this means that the entire mobility envelope of the vehicle is being calibrated. The models are calibrated in real-time while the vehicle drives so whatever trajectories the system is executing are used. The figure shows the short term response of a skid steered vehicle to left turn commands. Clearly the vehicle is slipping sideways because the green lines are all to the right of the red - and the red was asked for. The essnetial process is to write the slip velocities in terms of unknown parameters and solve for the parameters. We do that with a Kalman filter.

F. Rogers-Markovitz, A. Kelly, “Real-Time Vehicle Dynamic Model Identification using Integrated Pertubative Dynamics”,  International Symposium on Experimental Robotics, June 2010. [pdf]

7.2 Identifying Dead Reckoning Systems

This work is motivated by a very pragmatic need to calibrate dead reckoning systems for mobile robots. The result can calibrate both systematic and stochastic models - so it can produce not only calibrated estimates of robot motion but also of the uncertainty in those estimates. The basic mathematical techniques include linearizing the system dynamics and then using the linearized error dynamics, and the linear variance equation. The technique also uses arbitrary motions to a single known point from an arbitrary origin in order to minimize the need for (expensive and difficult to acquire) ground truth information. For stochastic modeling, the total probability theorem is used in order to avoid the need to repeat the same trajectory over and over. Arbitrary trajectories can be used instead. In fact, the results are better if the trajectories are as different as possible.

Kelly, A., “Fast and Easy Systematic and Stochastic Odometry Calibration”. In Proceeedings of the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), Sendai Japan, September 2004. [pdf]

8.0 Automated Guided Vehicles

AGVs are (typically) indoor robots that move material from place to place. These may be configured as tugs, unit loads, or forked AGVs. The market for these mobile robots is well established.

8.1 Infrastructure-Free AGVs

An effort to make an AGV which can guide itself entirely based on vision and no plant infrastructure. There were four visual servos. One was used to guide the gross vehicel motion. Another was used to pick up objects and parts racks with the forks. A third was used to stack racks on top of each other. A fourth was used for navigation inside (while loading and unloading) shipping containers.

Kelly, A.,Nagy, B. ,Stager, D., Unnikrishnan, R., “An Infrastructure-Free Automated Guided Vehicle Based on Computer Vision”, IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine. September 2007. [pdf]

9.0 Sensing

Some say that better sensors are all we need for better robots. Others say they will never be good enough. A few research programs have investigated the construction and performance of new sensors.

9.1 Inertial Navigation Systems

We have developed our own custom low-cost strapdown inertial navigation system for mobile robots. The system is based on a high performance (tactical grade) micro electromechanical system (MEMS) inertial measurement unit (IMU). Mobile robots place unique demands on the performance of pose estimation systems due to the unique demands of perception and mapping tasks. A robot needs to know precisely which way is up in order to correctly  assess the slope of the terrain in view. Waypoint following typically depends on an accurate global position - particularly if the robot is blind (has no perception system). Mapping requires a smooth pose estimate and mapping is particularly sensitive to attitude errors. If scanning sensors like scanning lidars are used, it becomes critical to be able to associate an accurate position and orientation of the lidar sensor with every lidar pixel. This system is designed to address all of these unique demands.

Mobile robots also provide unique opportunities to aid a guidance system. Odometry is almost always available and most perception sensors can be harnessed to help out. The system can accept these unique robotic aids as well.

This system is now being sold commercially - which is why this section is a little less technically detailed than the others. I am not allowed to put its picture here.

9.2 Colorized Range Sensors

The NREC colorized range sensor is a good contender for the right sensor modality for mobile robot perception. Such sensors produce a red-green-blue-depth image so that both the appearance and the geometry of the scene is known for every pixel. The data is registered at the pixel level. The original motivation for this sensor modality was obstacle detection - rocks and bushes can have similar appearance but the bush will be penetrated by the lidar beams and the rock will not.

Later, we have found more uses for these sensors. In particular they are also perfect for virtualized reality - the process of turning a real scene into a computer graphics model. This is done essentially instantly, and essentially in hardware, using colorized range sensors.

A. Kelly, D. Anderson, H. Herman, “Photogeometric Sensing for Mobile Robot Control and Visualization Tasks”, 23rd Convention of the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behavior, AISB 2009, Edinburgh, Scotland. [pdf]

9.3 Flash Ladar Sensors

This paper characterizes the performance of two flash lidar sensors. This an important up-and-coming sensor modality for robots.

Anderson, D., Herman H.,  Kelly, A., “Experimental Characterization of Commercial Flash Ladar Devices”, In Proceeedings of International Conference on Sensing Technologies, November 21-23, 2005 Palmerston North, New Zealand. [pdf]

9.4 Scanning Lidar Sensors

This effort, conducted in conjunction with Quantapoint ( produced a scanning laser radar sensor of very high accuracy (mm range accuracy). It has an omnidirectional horizontal field of view with no blind spots. The novel scanning mechanism is patented.  Quantapoint has been in the as-built modelling business for many years.

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