This software is a component in an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) perception system that builds compact, single-frame terrain maps for distribution to other systems, such as a world model or an operator control unit, over a local area network (LAN). Each cell in the map encodes an elevation value, terrain classification, object classification, terrain traversability, terrain roughness, and a confidence value into four bytes of memory. The input to this software component is a range image (from a lidar or stereo vision system), and optionally a terrain classification image and an object classification image, both registered to the range image. The single-frame terrain map generates estimates of the support surface elevation, ground cover elevation, and minimum canopy elevation; generates terrain traversability cost; detects low overhangs and high-density obstacles; and can perform geometry-based terrain classification (ground, ground cover, unknown).

A new origin is automatically selected for each single-frame terrain map in global coordinates such that it coincides with the corner of a world map cell. That way, single-frame terrain maps correctly line up with the world map, facilitating the merging of map data into the world map. Instead of using 32 bits to store the floating-point elevation for a map cell, the vehicle elevation is assigned to the map origin elevation and reports the change in elevation (from the origin elevation) in terms of the number of discrete steps. The single-frame terrain map elevation resolution is 2 cm. At that resolution, terrain elevation from –20.5 to 20.5 m (with respect to the vehicle’s elevation) is encoded into 11 bits.

For each four-byte map cell, bits are assigned to encode elevation, terrain roughness, terrain classification, object classification, terrain traversability cost, and a confidence value. The vehicle’s current position and orientation, the map origin, and the map cell resolution are all included in a header for each map. The map is compressed into a vector prior to delivery to another system.

This work was done by Arturo L. Rankin of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This software is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Daniel Broderick of the California Institute of Technology at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Refer to NPO-47039.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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