A computer program in the guidance system of a mobile robot generates estimates of the position and attitude of the robot, using features of the terrain on which the robot is moving, by processing digitized images acquired by a stereoscopic pair of electronic cameras mounted rigidly on the robot. Developed for use in localizing the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) vehicles on Martian terrain, the program can also be used for similar purposes on terrestrial robots moving in sufficiently visually textured environments: examples include low-flying robotic aircraft and wheeled robots moving on rocky terrain or inside buildings.

In simplified terms, the program automatically detects visual features and tracks them across stereoscopic pairs of images acquired by the cameras. The 3D locations of the tracked features are then robustly processed into an estimate of overall vehicle motion. Testing has shown that by use of this software, the error in the estimate of the position of the robot can be limited to no more than 2 percent of the distance traveled, provided that the terrain is sufficiently rich in features. This software has proven extremely useful on the MER vehicles during driving on sandy and highly sloped terrains on Mars.

This program was written by Mark Maimone, Yang Cheng, Larry Matthies, Marcel Schoppers, and Clark Olson of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This software is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Karina Edmonds of the California Institute of Technology at (626) 395-2322. Refer to NPO-41886.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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