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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Inertial-aided Visual Perception of Geometry and Semantics

  • Author(s): Fei, Xiaohan
  • Advisor(s): Soatto, Stefano
  • et al.

We describe components of a visual perception system to understand the geometry and semantics of the three-dimensional scene by utilizing monocular cameras and inertial measurement units (IMUs). The use of the two sensor modalities is motivated by the wide availability of the camera-IMU sensor packages present in mobile devices from phones to cars, and their complementary sensing capabilities: IMUs can track the motion of the sensor platform over a short period of time accurately, and provide a scaled and gravity-aligned global reference frame, while cameras can capture rich photometric signatures of the scene, and provide relative motion constraints between images up to scale.

We first show that visual 3D reconstruction can be improved by leveraging the global orientation frame -- easily inferred from inertials. In the gravity-aligned global orientation frame, a shape prior can be imposed in depth prediction from a single image, where the normal vectors to surfaces of objects of certain classes tend to align with gravity or orthogonal to it. Adding such a prior to baseline methods for monocular depth prediction yields improvements beyond the state-of-the-art and illustrates the power of utilizing inertials in 3D reconstruction.

The global reference provided by inertials is not only gravity-aligned but also scaled, which is exploited in depth completion: We describe a method to infer dense metric depth from camera motion and sparse depth as estimated using a visual-inertial odometry system. Unlike other scenarios using point clouds from lidar or structured light sensors, we have few hundreds to few thousand points, insufficient to inform the topology of the scene. Our method first constructs a piecewise planar scaffolding of the scene, and then uses it to infer dense depth using the image along with the sparse points. We use a predictive cross-modal criterion, akin to “self-supervision,” measuring photometric consistency across time, forward-backward pose consistency, and geometric compatibility with the sparse point cloud. We also launch the first visual-inertial + depth dataset (dubbed ``VOID''), which we hope will foster additional exploration into combining the complementary strengths of visual and inertial sensors. To compare our method to prior work, we adopt the unsupervised KITTI depth completion benchmark, and show state-of-the-art performance on it.

In addition to dense geometry, the camera-IMU sensor package can also be used to recover the semantics of the scene. We present two methods to augment a point cloud map with class-labeled objects represented in the form of either scaled and oriented bounding boxes or CAD models. The tradeoff of the two shape representation resides in their generality and capability to model detailed structures. While being more generic, 3D bounding boxes fail to model the details of the objects, whereas CAD models preserve the finest shape details but require more computation and are limited to previously seen objects. Nevertheless, both methods populate an unknown environment with 3D objects placed in a Euclidean reference frame inferred causally and on-line using monocular video along with inertial sensors. Besides, both methods include bottom-up and top-down components, whereby deep networks trained for detection provide likelihood scores for object hypotheses provided by a nonlinear filter, whose state serves as memory. We test our methods on KITTI and SceneNN datasets, and also introduce the VISMA dataset, which contains ground truth pose, point-cloud map, and object models, along with time-stamped inertial measurements.

To reduce the drift of the visual-inertial SLAM system -- a building block of all the visual perception systems we have built, we introduce an efficient loop closure detection approach based on the idea of hierarchical pooling of image descriptors. We also open-sourced a full-fledged SLAM system equipped with mapping and loop closure capabilities. The code is publicly available at

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