Topological SLAM

Simultaneous Localization and Mapping with Fingerprints of Places


This thesis is about topological navigation, more precisely about space representation, perception, localization and mapping. All these elements are needed in order to obtain a robust and reliable framework for navigation. This is essential in order to move in an environment, manipulate objects in it and avoid collisions. The method proposed in this dissertation is suitable for fully autonomous mobile robots, operating in structured indoor and outdoor environments.

High robustness is necessary to obtain a distinctive and reliable representation of the environment. This can be obtained by combining the information acquired by several sensors with complementary characteristics. A multimodal perception system that includes the wheel encoders for odometry and two extereoceptive sensors composed of a laser range finder that gives a 360° view of the environment and an omnidirectional camera are used in this work. Significant, robust and stable features are extracted from sensory data. The different features extracted from the extereoceptive sensors (i.e. corners, vertical edges, color patches, etc.) are fused and combined into a single, circular, and distinctive space representation named the fingerprint of a place. This representation is adapted for topological navigation and is the foundation for the whole dissertation.

One of the major tasks of a mobile robot is localization. Different topological localization approaches based on the fingerprint concept are presented in this dissertation. Localization on a fingerprint-based representation is reduced to a problem of fingerprint matching. Two of these methods make use of the Bayesian Programming (BP) formalism and two others are based on dynamic programming. They also show how multimodal perception increases the reliability of topological localization for mobile robots.

In order to autonomously acquire and create maps, robots have to explore their environment. Several exploration tools for indoor environments are presented: wall following, mid-line following, center of free space of a room, door detection, and environment structure identification.

An automatic and incremental topological mapping system based on fingerprints of places and a global localizer using Partially Observable Markov Decision Processes (POMDP) are proposed. The construction of a topological mapping system is combined with localization, both relying on fingerprints of places, in order to perform Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM). This enables navigation of an autonomous mobile robot in a structured environment without relying on maps given a priori, without using artificial landmarks and by employing a semantic spatial representation that allows a more natural interface between humans and robots. The fingerprint approach, combining the information from all sensors available to the robot, reduces perceptual aliasing and improves the distinctiveness of places. This fingerprint- based approach yields a consistent and distinctive representation of the environment and is extensible in that it permits spatial cognition beyond just pure navigation.

All these methodologies have been validated through experiments. Indoor and outdoor experiments have been conducted over a distance exceeding 2 km. The fingerprints of places proved to provide a compact and distinctive methodology for space representation and place recognition – they permit encoding of a huge amount of place- related information in a single circular sequence of features. The experiments have verified the efficacy and reliability of this approach.


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