Candidate: Matthew Grimes
Advisor: Yann LeCun

Flexible-Cost SLAM


The ability of a robot to track its position and its surroundings is critical in mobile robotics applications, such as autonomous transport, farming, search-and-rescue, and planetary exploration.

As a foundational building block to such tasks, localization must remain reliable and unobtrusive. For example, it must not provide an unneeded level of precision, when the cost of doing so displaces higher-level tasks from a busy CPU. Nor should it produce noisy estimates on the cheap, when there are CPU cycles to spare.

This thesis explores localization solutions that provide exactly the amount of accuracy needed to a given task. We begin with a real-world system used in the DARPA Learning Applied to Ground Robotics (LAGR) competition. Using a novel hybrid of wheel and visual odometry, we cut the cost of visual odometry from 100% of a CPU to 5%, clearing room for other critical visual processes, such as long-range terrain classification. We present our hybrid odometer in chapter 2.

Next, we describe a novel SLAM algorithm that provides a means to choose the desired balance between cost and accuracy. At its fastest setting, our algorithm converges faster than previous stochastic SLAM solvers, while maintaining significantly better accuracy. At its most accurate, it provides the same solution as exact SLAM solvers. Its main feature, however, is the ability to flexibly choose any point between these two extremes of speed and precision, as circumstances demand. As a result, we are able to guarantee real-time performance at each timestep on city-scale maps with large loops. We present this solver in chapter 3, along with results from both commonly available datasets and Google Street View data.

Taken as a whole, this thesis recognizes that precision and efficiency can be competing values, whose proper balance depends on the application and its fluctuating circumstances. It demonstrates how a localizer can and should fit its cost to the task at hand, rather than the other way around. In enabling this flexibility, we demonstrate a new direction for SLAM research, as well as provide a new convenience for end-users, who may wish to map the world without stopping it.