Selective combination of visual and thermal imaging for resilient localization in adverse conditions: Day and night, smoke and fire

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Journal Article
Journal of Field Robotics, 2013, 30 (4), pp. 641 - 666
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Long-term autonomy in robotics requires perception systems that are resilient to unusual but realistic conditions that will eventually occur during extended missions. For example, unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) need to be capable of operating safely in adverse and low-visibility conditions, such as at night or in the presence of smoke. The key to a resilient UGV perception system lies in the use of multiple sensor modalities, e.g., operating at different frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, to compensate for the limitations of a single sensor type. In this paper, visual and infrared imaging are combined in a Visual-SLAM algorithm to achieve localization. We propose to evaluate the quality of data provided by each sensor modality prior to data combination. This evaluation is used to discard low-quality data, i.e., data most likely to induce large localization errors. In this way, perceptual failures are anticipated and mitigated. An extensive experimental evaluation is conducted on data sets collected with a UGV in a range of environments and adverse conditions, including the presence of smoke (obstructing the visual camera), fire, extreme heat (saturating the infrared camera), low-light conditions (dusk), and at night with sudden variations of artificial light. A total of 240 trajectory estimates are obtained using five different variations of data sources and data combination strategies in the localization method. In particular, the proposed approach for selective data combination is compared to methods using a single sensor type or combining both modalities without preselection. We show that the proposed framework allows for camera-based localization resilient to a large range of low-visibility conditions. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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