URA*: Uncertainty-aware Path Planning using Image-based Aerial-to-Ground Traversability Estimation for Off-road Environments

by   Charles Moore, et al.

A major challenge with off-road autonomous navigation is the lack of maps or road markings that can be used to plan a path for autonomous robots. Classical path planning methods mostly assume a perfectly known environment without accounting for the inherent perception and sensing uncertainty from detecting terrain and obstacles in off-road environments. Recent work in computer vision and deep neural networks has advanced the capability of terrain traversability segmentation from raw images; however, the feasibility of using these noisy segmentation maps for navigation and path planning has not been adequately explored. To address this problem, this research proposes an uncertainty-aware path planning method, URA* using aerial images for autonomous navigation in off-road environments. An ensemble convolutional neural network (CNN) model is first used to perform pixel-level traversability estimation from aerial images of the region of interest. The traversability predictions are represented as a grid of traversal probability values. An uncertainty-aware planner is then applied to compute the best path from a start point to a goal point given these noisy traversal probability estimates. The proposed planner also incorporates replanning techniques to allow rapid replanning during online robot operation. The proposed method is evaluated on the Massachusetts Road Dataset, the DeepGlobe dataset, as well as a dataset of aerial images from off-road proving grounds at Mississippi State University. Results show that the proposed image segmentation and planning methods outperform conventional planning algorithms in terms of the quality and feasibility of the initial path, as well as the quality of replanned paths.


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