Technical Details

This document describes how nvblox works for its different mapping modes.

Static Reconstruction

Nvblox builds a reconstructed map in the form of a TSDF (Truncated Signed Distance Function) stored in a 3D voxel grid. This approach is similar to 3D occupancy grid mapping approaches in which occupancy probabilities are stored at each voxel. However, TSDF-based approaches like nvblox store the (signed) distance to the closest surface at each voxel. The surface of the environment can then be extracted as the zero-level set of this voxelized function. Typically, TSDF-based reconstructions provide higher quality surface reconstructions.

Distance fields are useful for path planning. They provide an immediate means of checking potential future robot positions for collisions with the reconstructed environment. nvblox provides for construction of the full (non-truncated) distance field, also known as the ESDF (Euclidean Signed Distance Function).

The dual utility of distance functions for reconstruction and planning motivates their use in nvblox.

The diagram above indicates data and processes in nvblox. By default, nvblox builds TSDF, color, mesh, and ESDF layers. Each layer is an independent, but aligned and co-located, voxel grid containing data of the appropriate type. For example, voxels on the TSDF layer store distance and weight data, while the color layer voxels store color values.

Human Reconstruction

There are additional options for mapping scenes containing people. In this configuration, humans are separated from the TSDF reconstruction into a separate layer containing an occupancy grid representing reconstructed humans.

Human segmentation is applied to each processed color frame with Isaac ROS Image Segmentation. The depth masker module uses the segmentation mask from the color image to separate the depth-map into human and non-human parts. While the non-human labeled part of the depth frame is still forwarded to TSDF mapping, the human labeled part is processed to an occupancy grid map.

To relax the assumption that occupancy grid maps only capture static objects, an occupancy decay step must be applied. At a fixed frequency, all voxel occupancy probabilities are decayed towards 0.5 over time. This means that the state of the map (occupied or free) becomes less certain after it has fallen out of the field of view, until it becomes unknown (0.5 occupancy probability).

Dynamic Reconstruction

The algorithm used for nvblox dynamic reconstruction is based on the following paper:

  • Lukas Schmid, Olov Andersson, Aurelio Sulser, Patrick Pfreundschuh, and Roland Siegwart.
    Dynablox: Real-time Detection of Diverse Dynamic Objects in Complex Environments
    in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (RA-L), Vol. 8, No. 10, pp. 6259 - 6266, October 2023.

While the human reconstruction pipeline employs a Deep Neural Network (DNN) to generate a mask image for separating human detections into a dynamic occupancy layer, the general dynamic reconstruction pipeline maintains a (high-confidence) freespace layer dedicated to detecting dynamic objects. Whenever an object enters freespace, it is identified as dynamic and then integrated into the dynamic occupancy layer, similar to the human reconstruction pipeline described above.

This enables the pipeline to separately reconstruct humans (or other specific objects that the DNN was trained for) and all moving objects regardless of their class or category.