Robot Homing by Exploiting Panoramic Vision

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We propose a novel, vision-based method for robot homing, the problem of computing a route so that a robot can return to its initial “home” position after the execution of an arbitrary “prior” path. The method assumes that the robot tracks visual features in panoramic views of the environment that it acquires as it moves. By exploiting only angular information regarding the tracked features, a local control strategy moves the robot between two positions, provided that there are at least three features that can be matched in the panoramas acquired at these positions. The strategy is successful when certain geometric constraints on the configuration of the two positions relative to the features are fulfilled. In order to achieve long-range homing, the features' trajectories are organized in a visual memory during the execution of the “prior” path. When homing is initiated, the robot selects Milestone Positions (MPs) on the “prior” path by exploiting information in its visual memory. The MP selection process aims at picking positions that guarantee the success of the local control strategy between two consecutive MPs. The sequential visit of successive MPs successfully guides the robot even if the visual context in the “home” position is radically different from the visual context at the position where homing was initiated. Experimental results from a prototype implementation of the method demonstrate that homing can be achieved with high accuracy, independent of the distance traveled by the robot. The contribution of this work is that it shows how a complex navigational task such as homing can be accomplished efficiently, robustly and in real-time by exploiting primitive visual cues. Such cues carry implicit information regarding the 3D structure of the environment. Thus, the computation of explicit range information and the existence of a geometric map are not required.

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