Insights into the sparsity of graph-SLAM (i.e., in the smoothing / optimization approach to SLAM) and a good formalization of the problem

K. Khosoussi, S. Huang and G. Dissanayake, “A Sparse Separable SLAM Back-End,” in IEEE Transactions on Robotics, vol. 32, no. 6, pp. 1536-1549, Dec. 2016. DOI: 10.1109/TRO.2016.2609394.

We propose a scalable algorithm to take advantage of the separable structure of simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM). Separability is an overlooked structure of SLAM that distinguishes it from a generic nonlinear least-squares problem. The standard relative-pose and relative-position measurement models in SLAM are affine with respect to robot and features’ positions. Therefore, given an estimate for robot orientation, the conditionally optimal estimate for the rest of the state variables can be easily computed by solving a sparse linear least-squares problem. We propose an algorithm to exploit this intrinsic property of SLAM by stripping the problem down to its nonlinear core, while maintaining its natural sparsity. Our algorithm can be used in conjunction with any Newton-based solver and is applicable to 2-D/3-D pose-graph and feature-based SLAM. Our results suggest that iteratively solving the nonlinear core of SLAM leads to a fast and reliable convergence as compared to the state-of-the-art sparse back-ends.

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