Section: Research Program
Most of the applications involving mobile robotic systems (ground vehicles, aerial robots, automated submarines,...) require a reliable localization of the robot in its environment. A challenging problem is when neither the robot localization nor the map is known. Localization and mapping must then be considered concurrently. This problem is known as Simultaneous Localization And Mapping (Slam). In this case, the robot moves from an unknown location in an unknown environment and proceeds to incrementally build up a navigation map of the environment, while simultaneously using this map to update its estimated position.
Nevertheless, solving the Slam problem is not sufficient for guaranteeing an autonomous and safe navigation. The choice of the representation of the map is, of course, essential. The representation has to support the different levels of the navigation process: motion planning, motion execution and collision avoidance and, at the global level, the definition of an optimal strategy of displacement. The original formulation of the Slam problem is purely metric (since it basically consists in estimating the Cartesian situations of the robot and a set of landmarks), and it does not involve complex representations of the environment. However, it is now well recognized that several complementary representations are needed to perform exploration, navigation, mapping, and control tasks successfully. We propose to use composite models of the environment that mix topological, metric, and grid-based representations. Each type of representation is well adapted to a particular aspect of autonomous navigation : the metric model allows one to locate the robot precisely and plan Cartesian paths, the topological model captures the accessibility of different sites in the environment and allows a coarse localization, and finally the grid representation is useful to characterize the free space and design potential functions used for reactive obstacle avoidance. However, ensuring the consistency of these various representations during the robot exploration, and merging observations acquired from different viewpoints by several cooperative robots, are difficult problems. This is particularly true when different sensing modalities are involved. New studies to derive efficient algorithms for manipulating the hybrid representations (merging, updating, filtering...) while preserving their consistency are needed.