Sensor Fusion in Certainty Grids for Mobile Robots

  • Hans P. Moravec


A numeric representation of uncertain and incomplete sensor knowledge called certainty grids was used successfully in several recent mobile robot control programs developed at the Carnegie-Mellon University Mobile Robot Laboratory (MRL). Certainty grids have proven to be a powerful and efficient unifying solution for sensor fusion, motion planning, landmark identification, and many other central problems. MRL had good early success with ad hoc formulas for updating grid cells with new information. A new Bayesian statistical foundation for the operations promises further improvement. MRL proposes to build a software framework running on processors onboard the new Uranus mobile robot that will maintain a probabilistic, geometric map of the robot's surroundings as it moves. The certainty grid representation will allow this map to be incrementally updated in a uniform way based on information coming from various sources, including sonar, stereo vision, proximity, and contact sensors. The approach can correctly model the fuzziness of each reading and, at the same time, combine multiple measurements to produce sharper map features; it can also deal correctly with uncertainties in the robot's motion. The map will be used by planning programs to choose clear paths, identify locations (by correlating maps), identify well-known and insufficiently sensed terrain, and perhaps identify objects by shape. The certainty grid representation can be extended in the time dimension and used to detect and track moving objects. Even the simplest versions of the idea allow us to fairly straightforwardly program the robot for tasks that have hitherto been out of reach. MRL looks forward to a program that can explore a region and return to its starting place, using map "snapshots" from its outbound journey to find its way back, even in the presence of disturbances of its motion and occasional changes in the terrain.