Collision Detection and Avoidance for Underwater Vehicles Using Omnidirectional Vision

Exploration of marine habitats is one of the key pillars of underwater science, which often involves collecting images at close range. As acquiring imagery close to the seabed involves multiple hazards, the safety of underwater vehicles, such as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), is often compromised. Common applications for obstacle avoidance in underwater environments are often conducted with acoustic sensors, which cannot be used reliably at very short distances, thus requiring a high level of attention from the operator to avoid damaging the robot. Therefore, developing capabilities such as advanced assisted mapping, spatial awareness and safety, and user immersion in confined environments is an important research area for human-operated underwater robotics. In this paper, we present a novel approach that provides an ROV with capabilities for navigation in complex environments. By leveraging the ability of omnidirectional multi-camera systems to provide a comprehensive view of the environment, we create a 360° real-time point cloud of nearby objects or structures within a visual SLAM framework. We also develop a strategy to assess the risk of obstacles in the vicinity. We show that the system can use the risk information to generate warnings that the robot can use to perform evasive maneuvers when approaching dangerous obstacles in real-world scenarios. This system is a first step towards a comprehensive pilot assistance system that will enable inexperienced pilots to operate vehicles in complex and cluttered environments ​
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