In order to perform precision landings for space missions, a control system must be accurate to within ten meters. Feature detection applied against images taken during descent and correlated against the provided base image is computationally expensive and requires tens of seconds of processing time to do just one image while the goal is to process multiple images per second.

To solve this problem, this algorithm takes that processing load from the central processing unit (CPU) and gives it to a reconfigurable field programmable gate array (FPGA), which is able to compute data in parallel at very high clock speeds. The workload of the processor then becomes simpler; to read an image from a camera, it is transferred into the FPGA, and the results are read back from the FPGA.

Harris Corner Detector uses the determinant and trace to find a “corner score,” with each step of the computation occurring on independent clock cycles. Essentially, the image is converted into an x and y derivative map. Once three lines of pixel information have been queued up, valid pixel derivatives are clocked into the product and averaging phase of the pipeline. Each x and y derivative is squared against itself, as well as the product of the ix and iy derivative, and each value is stored in a W×N size buffer, where W represents the size of the integration window and N is the width of the image. In this particular case, a window size of 5 was chosen, and the image is 640×480.

Over a W×N size window, an equidistance Gaussian is applied (to bring out the stronger corners), and then each value in the entire window is summed and stored. The required components of the equation are in place, and it is just a matter of taking the determinant and trace. It should be noted that the trace is being weighted by a constant κ, a value that is found empirically to be within 0.04 to 0.15 (and in this implementation is 0.05). The constant κ determines the number of corners available to be compared against a threshold σ to mark a “valid corner.”

After a fixed delay from when the first pixel is clocked in (to fill the pipeline), a score is achieved after each successive clock. This score corresponds with an (x,y) location within the image. If the score is higher than the predetermined threshold σ, then a flag is set high and the location is recorded.

This work was done by Arin C. Morfopoulos and Brandon C. Metz of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at under the Electronics/Computers category. NPO-47202

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Rapid Corner Detection Using FPGAs

(reference NPO-47202) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the December, 2010 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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