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Feature-Based Map Building from Lidar Data

This example demonstrates how to process 3-D lidar data from a sensor mounted on a vehicle to progressively build a map. Such a map is suitable for automated driving workflows such as localization and navigation. These maps can be used to localize a vehicle within a few centimeters.


There are different ways to register point clouds. The general way is to use the complete point cloud for registration. Build a Map from Lidar Data (Automated Driving Toolbox) example uses this approach for map building. This example uses distinctive features extracted from the point cloud for map building.

In this example, you will learn how to:

  • Load and visualize recorded driving data.

  • Build a map using lidar scans.

Load Recorded Driving Data

The data used in this example represents approximately 100 seconds of lidar, GPS, and IMU data. The data is saved in separate MAT-files as timetable objects. Download the lidar data MAT file from the repository and load it into the MATLAB® workspace.

Note: This download can take a few minutes.

baseDownloadURL = ['' ...
dataFolder      = fullfile(tempdir, 'drive_segment_11_18_16', filesep);
options         = weboptions('Timeout', Inf);

lidarFileName = dataFolder + "lidarPointClouds.mat";

% Check whether the folder and data file already exist or not
folderExists  = exist(dataFolder, 'dir');
matfilesExist = exist(lidarFileName, 'file');

% Create a new folder if it does not exist
if ~folderExists

% Download the lidar data if it does not exist
if ~matfilesExist
    disp('Downloading lidarPointClouds.mat (613 MB)...');
    websave(lidarFileName, baseDownloadURL + "lidarPointClouds.mat", options);
Downloading lidarPointClouds.mat (613 MB)...

Load the point cloud data saved from a Velodyne® HDL32E lidar sensor. Each lidar scan is stored as a 3-D point cloud using the pointCloud object. This object internally organizes the data using a K-d tree data structure for faster search. The timestamp associated with each lidar scan is recorded in the Time variable of the timetable object.

% Load lidar data from MAT-file
data = load(lidarFileName);
lidarPointClouds = data.lidarPointClouds;

% Display first few rows of lidar data
ans=8×1 timetable
        Time            PointCloud   
    _____________    ________________

    23:46:10.5115    [1x1 pointCloud]
    23:46:10.6115    [1x1 pointCloud]
    23:46:10.7116    [1x1 pointCloud]
    23:46:10.8117    [1x1 pointCloud]
    23:46:10.9118    [1x1 pointCloud]
    23:46:11.0119    [1x1 pointCloud]
    23:46:11.1120    [1x1 pointCloud]
    23:46:11.2120    [1x1 pointCloud]

Visualize Driving Data

To understand what the scene contains, visualize the recorded lidar data using the pcplayer object.

% Specify limits for the player
xlimits = [-45 45]; % meters
ylimits = [-45 45];
zlimits = [-10 20];

% Create a pcplayer to visualize streaming point clouds from lidar sensor
lidarPlayer = pcplayer(xlimits, ylimits, zlimits);

% Customize player axes labels
xlabel(lidarPlayer.Axes, 'X (m)');
ylabel(lidarPlayer.Axes, 'Y (m)');
zlabel(lidarPlayer.Axes, 'Z (m)');
title(lidarPlayer.Axes, 'Lidar Sensor Data');

% Loop over and visualize the data
for l = 1 : height(lidarPointClouds)
    % Extract point cloud
    ptCloud = lidarPointClouds.PointCloud(l);

    % Update lidar display
    view(lidarPlayer, ptCloud);

Use Recorded Lidar Data to Build a Map

Lidars can be used to build centimeter-accurate maps which can later be used for in-vehicle localization. A typical approach to build such a map is to align successive lidar scans obtained from a moving vehicle and combine them into a single, large point cloud. The rest of this example explores this approach to building a map.


Take two point clouds corresponding to nearby lidar scans. Every tenth scan is used to speed up processing and accumulate enough motion between scans.

skipFrames = 10;
frameNum   = 100;

fixed  = lidarPointClouds.PointCloud(frameNum);
moving = lidarPointClouds.PointCloud(frameNum + skipFrames);

Process the point cloud to retain structures in the point cloud that are distinctive. These steps are executed using the helperProcessPointCloud function:

  • Detect and remove the ground plane

  • Detect and remove ego-vehicle

These steps are described in more detail in the Ground Plane and Obstacle Detection Using Lidar (Automated Driving Toolbox) example.

fixedProcessed  = helperProcessPointCloud(fixed);
movingProcessed = helperProcessPointCloud(moving);

Display the initial and processed point clouds in top-view. Magenta points correspond to the ground plane and ego vehicle.

hFigFixed = figure;
axFixed   = axes('Parent', hFigFixed, 'Color', [0,0,0]);

pcshowpair(fixed, fixedProcessed, 'Parent', axFixed);
title(axFixed, 'Segmented Ground and Ego Vehicle');
view(axFixed, 2);

Downsample the point clouds to improves registration accuracy and algorithm speed.

gridStep = 0.1;
fixedDownsampled  = pcdownsample(fixedProcessed, "gridAverage", gridStep);
movingDownsampled = pcdownsample(movingProcessed, "gridAverage", gridStep);

Feature-Based Registration

Align and combine successive lidar scans using feature-based registration as follows:

  • Extract Fast Point Feature Histogram (FPFH) descriptors from each scan using the extractFPFHFeatures function.

  • Identify point correspondences by comparing the descriptors using the pcmatchfeatures function.

  • Estimate the rigid transformation from point correspondences using the estimateGeometricTransform3D function.

  • Align and merge the point cloud with respect to reference point cloud using the estimated transformation. This is performed using the pcalign function.

% Extract FPFH Features for each point cloud
neighbors = 60;
[fixedFeature, fixedValidInds]   =  extractFPFHFeatures(fixedDownsampled, ...
    'NumNeighbors', neighbors);
[movingFeature, movingValidInds] = extractFPFHFeatures(movingDownsampled, ...
    'NumNeighbors', neighbors);

fixedValidPts  = select(fixedDownsampled, fixedValidInds);
movingValidPts = select(movingDownsampled, movingValidInds);

% Identify the point correspondences
method    = 'Approximate';
threshold = 1;
ratio     = 0.96;
indexPairs = pcmatchfeatures(movingFeature, fixedFeature, movingValidPts, ...
    fixedValidPts,"Method",method, "MatchThreshold",threshold, ...
    "RejectRatio", ratio);

matchedFixedPts  = select(fixedValidPts, indexPairs(:,2));
matchedMovingPts = select(movingValidPts, indexPairs(:,1));

% Estimate rigid transform of moving point cloud with respect to reference
% point cloud
maxDist = 1.5;
maxNumTrails = 2000;
tform = estimateGeometricTransform3D(matchedMovingPts.Location, ...
    matchedFixedPts.Location, "rigid", "MaxDistance", maxDist, ...
    "MaxNumTrials", maxNumTrails);

% Transform the moving point cloud to the reference point cloud, to
% visualize the alignment before and after registration
movingReg = pctransform(movingProcessed, tform);

% Moving and fixed point clouds are represented by magenta and green colors
hFigAlign = figure;
axAlign1 = subplot(1, 2, 1,'Color', [0, 0, 0], 'Parent', hFigAlign);
pcshowpair(movingProcessed, fixedProcessed, 'Parent', axAlign1);
title(axAlign1, 'Before Registration');
view(axAlign1, 2);

axAlign2 = subplot(1, 2, 2,'Color', [0, 0, 0], 'Parent', hFigAlign);
pcshowpair(movingReg, fixedProcessed, 'Parent', axAlign2);
title(axAlign2, 'After Registration');
view(axAlign2, 2);

% Align and merge the point clouds
alignGridStep = 1;
ptCloudAccum  = pcalign([fixedProcessed, movingProcessed], ...
    [rigid3d, tform], alignGridStep);

% Visualize the accumulated point cloud
hFigAccum = figure;
axAccum   = axes('Parent', hFigAccum, 'Color', [0,0,0]);

pcshow(ptCloudAccum, 'Parent', axAccum);
title(axAccum, 'Accumulated Point Cloud');
view(axAccum, 2);

Map Generation

Apply pre-processing and feature-based registration steps in a loop over the entire sequence of recorded data. The result is a map of the environment traversed by the vehicle.

numFrames     = height(lidarPointClouds);
accumTform    = rigid3d;
pointCloudMap = pointCloud(zeros(0, 0, 3));

% Specify limits for the player
xlimits = [-200 250]; % meters
ylimits = [-150 500];
zlimits = [-100 100];

% Create a pcplayer to visualize map
mapPlayer = pcplayer(xlimits, ylimits, zlimits);
title(mapPlayer.Axes, 'Accumulated Map');
mapPlayer.Axes.View = [0, 90];

% Loop over the entire data to generate map
for n = 1 : skipFrames : numFrames - skipFrames

    % Get the nth point cloud
    ptCloud = lidarPointClouds.PointCloud(n);
    % Segment ground and remove ego vehicle
    ptProcessed = helperProcessPointCloud(ptCloud);
    % Downsample the point cloud for speed of operation
    ptDownsampled = pcdownsample(ptProcessed, "gridAverage", gridStep);
    % Extract the features from point cloud
    [ptFeature, ptValidInds]  = extractFPFHFeatures(ptDownsampled, ...
        'NumNeighbors', neighbors);
    ptValidPts  = select(ptDownsampled, ptValidInds);
    if n==1
        moving        = ptValidPts;
        movingFeature = ptFeature;
        pointCloudMap = ptValidPts;
        fixed         = moving;
        fixedFeature  = movingFeature;
        moving        = ptValidPts;
        movingFeature = ptFeature;
        % Match the features to find correspondences
        indexPairs = pcmatchfeatures(movingFeature, fixedFeature, moving, ...
            fixed, "Method",method,"MatchThreshold",threshold, ...
            "RejectRatio", ratio);
        matchedFixedPts  = select(fixed, indexPairs(:,2));
        matchedMovingPts = select(moving, indexPairs(:,1));
        % Register moving point cloud w.r.t reference point cloud
        tform = estimateGeometricTransform3D(matchedMovingPts.Location, ...
            matchedFixedPts.Location, "rigid", "MaxDistance", maxDist, ...
            "MaxNumTrials", maxNumTrails);
        % Compute accumulated transformation to original reference frame
        accumTform = rigid3d(tform.T * accumTform.T);
        % Align and merge moving point cloud to accumulated map
        pointCloudMap = pcalign([pointCloudMap, moving], ...
            [rigid3d, accumTform], alignGridStep);
    % Update map display
    view(mapPlayer, pointCloudMap);


pcdownsample | extractFPFHFeatures | pcmatchfeatures | estimateGeometricTransform3D | pctransform | pcalign


pcplayer | pointCloud

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