Scalable online decentralized smoothing and mapping

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Cunningham, Alexander G.
Dellaert, Frank
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Many applications for field robots can benefit from large numbers of robots, especially applications where the objective is for the robots to cover or explore a region. A key enabling technology for robust autonomy in these teams of small and cheap robots is the development of collaborative perception to account for the shortcomings of the small and cheap sensors on the robots. In this dissertation, I present DDF-SAM to address the decentralized data fusion (DDF) inference problem with a smoothing and mapping (SAM) approach to single-robot mapping that is online, scalable and consistent while supporting a variety of sensing modalities. The DDF-SAM approach performs fully decentralized simultaneous localization and mapping in which robots choose a relevant subset of variables from their local map to share with neighbors. Each robot summarizes their local map to yield a density on exactly this chosen set of variables, and then distributes this summarized map to neighboring robots, allowing map information to propagate throughout the network. Each robot fuses summarized maps it receives to yield a map solution with an extended sensor horizon. I introduce two primary variations on DDF-SAM, one that uses a batch nonlinear constrained optimization procedure to combine maps, DDF-SAM 1.0, and one that uses an incremental solving approach for substantially faster performance, DDF-SAM 2.0. I validate these systems using a combination of real-world and simulated experiments. In addition, I evaluate design trade-offs for operations within DDF-SAM, with a focus on efficient approximate map summarization to minimize communication costs.
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