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CAE-LO: LiDAR Odometry Leveraging Fully Unsupervised Convolutional Auto-Encoder for Interest Point Detection and Feature Description

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Abstract and Figures

As an important technology in 3D mapping, autonomous driving, and robot navigation, LiDAR odometry is still a challenging task. Utilizing compact 2D structured spherical ring projection model and voxel model which preserves the original shape of input data, we propose a fully unsupervised Convolutional Auto-Encoder based LiDAR Odometry (CAE-LO) that detects interest points from spherical ring data using 2D CAE and extracts features from multi-resolution voxel model using 3D CAE. We make several key contributions: 1) experiments based on KITTI dataset show that our interest points can capture more local details to improve the matching success rate on unstructured scenarios and our features outperform state-of-the-art by more than 50% in matching inlier ratio; 2) besides, we also propose a keyframe selection method based on matching pairs transferring, an odometry refinement method for keyframes based on extended interest points from spherical rings, and a backward pose update method. The odometry refinement experiments verify the proposed ideas' feasibility and effectiveness.
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CAE-LO: LiDAR Odometry Leveraging Fully Unsupervised Convolutional Auto-Encoder
for Interest Point Detection and Feature Description
Deyu Yin 1, 2, Qian Zhang 3, Jingbin Liu 1, 2, *, Xinlian Liang 2, Yunsheng Wang 2,
Jyri Maanpää
2, Hao Ma 1, Juha Hyyppä
2, Ruizhi Chen 1
1 State Key Laboratory of Information Engineering in Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430079,
China {deyu.yin, jingbin.liu, 00032148, ruizhi.chen}
2 Department of Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry and the Center of Excellence in Laser Scanning Research, Finnish Geospatial
Research Institute, 02430 Masala, Finland {xinlian.liang,, jyri.maanpaa, juha.hyyppa}
3 School of Economics and Management, Hubei University of Technology, Wuhan 430068, China -
As an important technology in 3D mapping, autonomous
driving, and robot navigation, LiDAR odometry is still a
challenging task. Appropriate data structure and unsupervised deep
learning are the keys to achieve an easy adjusted LiDAR odometry
solution with high performance. Utilizing compact 2D structured
spherical ring projection model and voxel model which preserves
the original shape of input data, we propose a fully unsupervised
Convolutional Auto-Encoder based LiDAR Odometry (CAE-LO)
that detects interest points from spherical ring data using 2D CAE
and extracts features from multi-resolution voxel model using 3D
CAE. We make several key contributions: 1) experiments based on
KITTI dataset show that our interest points can capture more local
details to improve the matching success rate on unstructured
scenarios and our features outperform state-of-the-art by more than
50% in matching inlier ratio; 2) besides, we also propose a
keyframe selection method based on matching pairs transferring, an
odometry refinement method for keyframes based on extended
interest points from spherical rings, and a backward pose update
method. The odometry refinement experiments verify the proposed
ideas feasibility and effectiveness.
1. Introduction
LiDAR Odometry (LO) plays an important role in autonomous
driving [1], robot navigation [2], indoor mapping [3, 4] and outdoor
mapping [5], etc. But until now it’s still a challenging task and the
main reasons come from the high accuracy demand and the
difficulties on the processing of LiDAR data. Firstly, LiDAR
odometry is sensitive on error accumulation especially on the
rotation error at a long distance. Secondly, it is difficult to extract
information from LiDAR point cloud due to its unorder and a great
amount of points.
Before the revolution of deep learning, LiDAR odometry
solutions were based on handcrafted algorithms, but this is usually
complicated and the parameters are difficult to adjust manually. The
deep learning technology is designed to learn parameters
automatically, which can greatly decrease the cost of development
and the complexity of the algorithms. Recently, some key
technologies based on deep learning that can be used in LiDAR
odometry [6-8] have emerged.
But the input data structure is still a very important problem
regardless of whether the algorithm is based on deep learning or not.
The large amount of unordered points is the first problem to face.
Although PointNet [9] is proposed to solve this problem, but it has
the limitation on the number of input points [10]. From another way,
projecting point cloud into grid structured data is a common
approach to order the points. And also, grid structured data let the
use of more mature Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) be very
suitable and convenient.
The choice of what kind of structured data to use depends on
the application. Generally, there are two traditional ways to project
LiDAR point cloud into structured data: 2D grid and 3D grid. These
two structures can be also called image model and voxel model. 2D
grid is a more compact way while 3D grid is scale isotropy. Interest
point (or keypoint) detection and feature description are two key
technologies in LiDAR odometry. The interest point detection part
is to pick interest points out from the whole input point cloud, and
this indicates that it needs efficient computing from the compact 2D
grid. However, the feature description part is to describe the features
corresponding to the detected interest points using their neighbor
data, which needs the merits of preserving original 3D shape from
3D grid, despite its sparsity. Hence, we use 2D grid for interest point
detection and use 3D grid for feature description.
Another important aspect for deep-learning-based methods is
the supervision type. There are several methods that use weakly
supervised way, such as taking ground-truth poses as a kind of
constraint to train the networks [6, 11]. While in our method,
Convolutional Auto-Encoders (CAEs) are applied to achieve fully
unsupervised training, which has a higher universality.
Besides these two key technologies, new methods for the
odometry refinement part in LiDAR odometry are also proposed. In
total, the proposed method is named as Convolutional Auto-
Encoder based LiDAR Odometry (CAE-LO) and the main
contributions are:
2D-CAE-based interest point detection method on
spherical ring LiDAR point cloud.
3D-CAE-based multi-scale feature extraction method on
voxel model.
Keyframe selection method based on feature matching
pairs transferring.
Pose transformation backward update method between
Our code is available online
2. Related Work
The amount of literature related to this work is huge. Since we
follow the feature-based frame to frame matching pipeline for the
generation of LO, related works always revolve interest point
detection and feature description. And as is said in the former
section, the point cloud data structure is a key problem. This section
discusses the methods based on different point cloud representation,
interest point detection methods, and feature extraction methods.
2.1 Data Representation Methods of LiDAR Point Cloud
Currently, the data representation methods of LiDAR point
cloud for extracting information can be divided into three
subcategories: unordered points2D grid, and 3D grid.
PointNet [9] and PointNet++ [12] were proposed aiming at
solving the disordering input problem of raw point cloud. They and
many PointNet-like networks are used to do 3D classification,
segmentation, and hierarchical feature learning. Also, many
PointNet-based networks emerged to detect interest points and to
extract features from LiDAR point cloud, such as 3DFeat-Net [6],
L3-Net [13], USIP [8], DeepICP [14], VoxelNet [15], etc. This way
of using disordered points as input can save the information from
the raw data as much as possible. However, due to the limitation on
the number of input points, many methods need to downsample the
point cloud in advance, which means the information is lost
inevitably. From the aspect of extracting features, this can lead to a
low feature description ability. For example, there are only 64
neighbor points near to a detected interest point in [6, 13] and only
35 sampled points within the same big-size voxel in [15] are used
for feature description. Therefore, a fusion of local features is
needed to improve the feature description ability [8, 11, 12].
2D grid representation has gained the most attention because it
offers a good trade-off between complexity and detection. The most
general projection way is to put the points into a 2D array along with
a specific direction, such as Watertight [16]Bird’s Eye View [17,
18] or Front View of LiDAR point cloud [19]. But they lose some
information if there are overlaps along the projection direction, and
they are also not compact enough for LiDAR point cloud. For the
multi-beam LiDAR, according to its scanning geometry, the point
cloud can be transformed into a 2D grid via cylindrical [20] or
spherical [21] projections. This is a very compact LiDAR point
cloud projection method with a relatively low information loss and
the projection content can be various types such as 3D coordinate
values, intensity information, or range information to form a multi-
channel 2D data [7, 20, 22-24]. So, it is very suitable to use 2D CNN,
and its effectiveness has been shown in the applications such as
vehicles detection [20], ground segmentation [24], object
segmentation [25], semantic segmentation [22], and even end-to-
end LiDAR point cloud scan-to-scan matching [7, 23]. However, its
shortcoming is the scale difference in different pixel locations. The
shared parameters of fixed-size filters in CNN will get different
receptive field sizes in the real 3D world when computing on pixel
patches where the distances to the LiDAR sensor are different.
Hence, trying to utilize its advantages and avoid its shortcomings
simultaneously, we decided to use 2D CNN on 2D spherical ring
(details are in Section 3.2) to detect interest points.
Unlike 2D grid, 3D grid, which is also called as voxel model,
has a constant scale in real size on every voxel inside it. And it also
preserves the original shape of the input point cloud. For example,
in [20], a 3D fully convolutional network is applied to detect
vehicles using voxel model. But it is computationally expensive
when using voxel models on a whole LiDAR point cloud voxel
model. Most of the voxels are empty and the computation is much
higher than 2D grid due to its 3D structure. And the memory cost is
very high if the voxel size is small with the purpose of improving
data resolution. In order to still take advantages of voxel model,
using only voxel patches to extract features can minimize its
disadvantages. In [26, 27], the voxel patches surrounding to
keypoints are used to extract features, and the voxel sizes are 0.02m
and 0.01m respectively. Similar to these approaches, our multi-scale
features are based on voxel patches, but with multiple resolutions.
2.2 Interest Point Detection
Interest point detection is to select matchable point candidates
from the whole data. Traditional handcrafted interest point detection
algorithms are ISS [28], Harris 3D [29], SHOT [30], NARF [31],
and clustering method used on watertight model [16], etc.. After the
rise of deep learning, there are methods that combine handcrafted
operators with deep learning [32] and the methods fully based on
deep learning. As far as we know, USIP is state-of-the-art to detect
interest points from raw point cloud. Even so, this method still
cannot find out satisfied interest points in some scenarios.
The methods utilizing 2D spherical ring structured data can be
divided into three categories: supervision-based methods, weakly-
supervised methods, and unsupervised methods. Supervision-based
methods use classifiers [33-36] or end-to-end approach [37] to
recognize keypoints. Weakly supervised methods usually use the
constraint from ground truth pose [6, 38, 39] or feature points
generated by Structure from Motion (SfM) [40] to train the networks
to detect interest points.
There are a few works based on unsupervised learning. USIP,
which takes raw points as input, is one of them. The work in [41]
creatively leverages L2-norm of the output of CNN filters to re-
localize interest points in images. Our method was inspired by this
idea. But different from it, our method directly uses the output of
CNN filters as a kind of local feature vector to detect interest points.
2.3 Feature Description
Feature description refers to describe the input data using a d-
dimension vector in a concise way and it also can be interpreted as
a kind of data compression. Regardless of global descriptors, no
matter the handcrafted descriptors or deep-learning-based
descriptors, the feature description is based on an area surrounding
to the interest point.
In order to get features with high matchability, the scale that
feature can describe is an important factor. Although some methods
use Siamese network [40], triplet loss [35, 37], or even N-tuple loss
[11] to train the descriptor to improve the matchability, the scale is
always the bottleneck. Generally speaking, if the resolution of the
data is fixed, then the bigger the scale results in more matchability,
while, at the same time, the more hardware resources are needed.
For the methods to take raw points as input, they have to use
hierarchical strategy [12, 42] or feature fusion methods [11, 43] to
strengthen the matchability. In the domain of 3D-grid-based [26, 27]
or 2D-image-based [35, 37, 40] feature matching, in which the area
that feature describes is a 3D/2D patch, a fixed scale with a fixed
resolution always has a limited matchability. To conquer these
problems, a fully unsupervised 3D descriptor with multi-scale voxel
patch is proposed in this paper.
Figure 1. Overview of the method.
Data Sequence
Point Cloud Interest Point Detection &
Feature Extraction Features Extended
Interest Points
Initial Odometry &
Keyframe Indexes Final Odometry
Frame to Frame
Pose Estimation Refinement on
Point Cloud
Voxel Model
Spherical Ring
Interest Points
Interest Points
Feature Extraction
Interest Point
3. The Proposed Method
3.1 Outline of the Method
The method contains two main steps. The first step takes point
cloud sequence as input and applies frame to frame pose estimation
to generate initial odometry and also to pick out keyframes. The
second step is an ICP-based odometry refinement which only
applies to keyframes to get the final refined odometry.
As shown in Figure 1, the initial odometry is generated from
the frame to frame pose estimation based on the extracted features
corresponding to the detected interest points. The generation of
Extended Interest Points (EIPs), which is used for the odometry
refinement on keyframes, is based on the interest point detection.
Besides these, the supporting methods of keyframe selection
method and backward pose update method are also elaborately
designed and included in the odometry refinement part.
In our method, the interest point detection from spherical ring
and the feature extraction from multi-scale voxel model are all based
on convolutional auto-encoder. See below for details.
3.2 Unsupervised Interest Points Detection
Spherical ring is a very compact way to represent LiDAR point
cloud data. On the one hand, it’s a 2D matrix data representation
that is suitable for convolutional operations. On the other hand, due
to its compactness, there are few empty pixels which can lead to
useless computations.
Different from some methods [20, 22, 25] only use the front
part of LiDAR point cloud, we project the whole LiDAR point cloud
into a spherical ring, trying to take full use of all the information.
Assume one point in the point cloud   the projection
functions are:
   (1)
      (2)
where and represent the row number and the column number to
project in respectively, is the height of the spherical ring,  and
 are the angle resolutions for the laser beams in horizontal and
vertical direction respectively. is the pitch angle of the lower
laser beam and the item of  is to make sure that all the
projected image coordinates are positive values.
Figure 2. The basic idea of a neighbor feature description using
convolutional filters. N1 is the number of first layer filters. N2 is the
number of second layer’s filters.
With the purpose of making the method more universal and
concise, we put the coordinate values  into the spherical ring
model even though the range and intensity data are available in the
dataset is going to be used. To the end, the spherical ring model will
be a 2D matrix with a dimension of     . Here is the
width of the spherical ring, and is the number of channels.
Taking the 2D structured spherical ring data as input, we
address the problem of interest point detection as picking out the
pixels corresponding interest points that have big difference values
with their neighbor pixels. To measure the difference value, we use
the output of CNN filters as the feature description of the local pixel
area which is also the receptive field of the filters, and then the L2
norm of the difference between the features is taken as the
difference value.
Figure 2 depicts this basic idea. Once the training of CNN is
finished, the parameters in the filters (showed with yellow grids) are
fixed. And the output of one layer of filters for one pixel of input
will be a vector, which will be taken as the feature descriptor of the
corresponding receptive field.
To achieve the goal of computing the features for all the pixels
in spherical ring with an unsupervised training way, we propose to
use CAE. Different from Auto-Encoders (AEs), the parameters in
CAEs are shared, which means the weights are shared among all
locations in the input, preserving spatial locality [44]. Once the
network is trained in this convolutional manner, the whole feature
map can be obtained with the whole spherical ring as input. In total,
this method has the following merits: 1) it works in an end-to-end
manner; 2) fully unsupervised training manner; 3) the network is
very light; 4) the network is easy to train. The overview of this
solution is shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Overview of the training and inference of response image
convolutional neural network.
The bottle-neck structure in which the output size of the layers
first decreases and then increases is a typical feature of AE networks.
The purpose of this feature is to force the network training filters to
perform data compression. Meanwhile, on the contrary, the number
of channels generally increases first and then decreases. But the
number of channels in the second layer is bigger than in the third
layer, aiming to increase the non-linearity for enhancing the ability
to describe the local feature, and simultaneously decrease the
dimension of the response output to save computational effort.
The response network corresponds to Figure 2. The third layer
in Figure 3, which is shown as the second convolutional layer in
Encoder Decoder
Input Output
Response Image
Response Network Inference
A 3×3 neighbor of one pixel in
spherical ring image
Size: H×C
Pixel patch (3 channels)
Size: 3×3
Filters of first layer
Size: 3×N1
Output of first layer
Size: 1×N1
Filters of second layer
Size: 1×N1×N 2
Output of second layer
Size: 1×N2
Data flow direction
Figure 2, uses convolution. Thus, the receptive field of the
response layer for each pixel is still . Assume the input
spherical ring as , which has a size of     . Once it passes
the response network, the response image can be obtained, and
the size is     , where is the dimension of the features.
To get the differences with neighbor pixels, the following
procedures should be carried out.
Assume the neighboring area is   , then
each pixel has  pixels to compare. Firstly, we
record all the response differences with neighbor pixels for each
pixel. Secondly, still for each pixel, using the mask generated by the
projection procedure, the smallest difference among the valid
neighbors is picked out as its score. Thirdly, all the scores in the
whole spherical ring are ranked and the points in the pixels that have
high scores are taken as interest points.
The computing of the feature difference map follows:
       (3)
where is the feature difference map with a size of      
. And there are                
        . And to quantify the difference, an L2-
norm is applied to the feature difference map to get the difference
map . The computation follows:
   N  (4)
where N is a function to compute the L2-norm of the input vector.
So, the purpose of is to record all the difference values of the
neighbor pixels for each pixel. And the qualification of the score for
being an interest point is to take the smallest difference among its
valid neighbors. The computation of the score map with the mask
for available pixels follows: 
M         (5)
where M is the mask which indicates the valid pixels in the
spherical ring, and its size is    . The function  is to get
the smallest valid value in the input matrix  with its
mask, which size is   . Hence, the score
map, which size is     , describes the difference between
each pixel in the spherical ring and its surrounding pixels to score
whether it can be an interest point.
To get not too many interest points, a threshold is set to filter
out mediocre points and a limitation of is set as the maximum
number of interest points to get. And to avoid getting too many
interest points from a near distance, we set a threshold as the
nearest distance to be accepted as an interest point. After this, EIPs
can be obtained by picking out valid neighbor points in the spherical
ring within a neighbor of size .
3.3 Multi-Scale Feature Extraction
As mentioned in Section 2, a local feature is a vector to
describe a local area of data. Thereby, the size of the region to which
the extracted features correspond is a key factor in feature matching
performance. However, at the same time, the matching accuracy
should be also considered, which is determined by the resolution of
data representation. In general, the larger the area that the feature
can correspond to and the higher the resolution of data
representation, the higher the matching stability and the higher
matching accuracy accompanied by higher computational load.
A local feature based on voxel model is extracted from a local
voxel patch centered on an interest point. Based on this, to achieve
high matching stability and high matching accuracy, we propose to
use a multiple resolution voxel models and a fixed size of voxel
patches to extract features. As illustrated in Figure 4, assume the
patch size is , which means there are voxels in one
patch. Set      are the voxel sizes. Since
the patch size is fixed, the size of the covered area by the patch
increases from to , while the computational load stays the same.
Here we set    and . And also, we set
 and , then the corresponding area of patches based
on resolutions set will be . Such a big
variance of the multiple scales is an insurance of the feature
description ability.
Figure 4. The process of obtaining multi-scale features from a 3D point. The voxels are represented as blue cubes. Red voxels are the valid voxels in voxel
patches. Blue grids are the outlines of voxel patches.
Setting a fixed patch size on all the resolutions also allows
them to be input into the same CAE network to achieve parameter
sharing. Therefore the obtaining of multi-scale feature can be done
by concatenating the three outputs together from the same network.
In [27], the voxel patch is input into the 3D CNN network to
extract a feature vector. The difference to their method is that the
training of our network is fully unsupervised. The same applies with
the 2D CAE for interest point detection, the input and the output are
the same to force the network to compress the input data and to
decompress it back during the training of 3D CAE.
As shown in Figure 5, the 3D CAE contains two parts: encoder
and decoder. The training in the 2D CAE for detecting interest point
is performed to obtain the response layer, while the training in this
3D CAE is done for obtaining the compressed code as the feature.
 is a canonical patch size. We use pooling layers and fully
connected layers to compress the data. After the training, one 20-
dimensional vector can be computed from each input voxel patch.
Three voxel patches can be extracted according to the coordinate
values of each interest point in three different scales. Finally, the
three 20-dimensional vectors can be concatenated to a 60-
dimensional vector to be the multi-scale feature of the interest point.
Figure 5. Flow chart of the output sizes of the layers in the 3D
convolutional auto-encoder.
In general, there are two ways to prepare the training dataset.
Either way is based on selecting a point and then extracting the
corresponding three voxel patches. One way to do this is by picking
up the points randomly from the raw point cloud and another way is
by picking up the points randomly from the detected interest points.
In order to make the feature description more specific, the latter way
is chosen. In addition, because is an even number in our case, we
use the integers in the close zone 
( is one
of the integer coordinate values among the three dimension
directions) as the coordinate indexes of the voxels.
3.4 Keyframe Selection and Odometry Refinement
The initial odometry can be got by using RANSAC based
frame to frame feature matching. To get a more accurate odometry,
a refinement for keyframes is carried out.
The selection of keyframes should follow some metrics.
Selecting keyframes by distance is a canonical way. But this method
is not reliable if the initial odometry has a low accuracy. Especially
if there are multiple consecutive failed matchings, the distance
between two keyframes might be much bigger than in reality,
leading to a small overlap or even no overlap between them.
To ensure sufficient overlap between keyframes, we utilize the
matching pairs transferring during the frame to frame matching to
select keyframes. Thus, the length between two keyframes will be
limited by the transferring of feature matching pairs, not too short
or too long.
Assume there are interest points with features in the 
frame, and we set    as the index set of the points.
We denote
 
   as one
matching pair between frame and frame . Then we take
 
as the set of matching pairs. Here, a function
is defined to find the corresponding point indexes in frame
according to the input point indexes in frame :
 
 
  (6)
For example, according to the definition, we can get the set of the
point indexes transferred from frame to frame . If the set is
empty, then it means the transfer is failed. The keyframe selection
can be started from taking the first frame in the frame sequence as
the first keyframe. The previous frame of the frame that the first
failed transferring will be taken as the second keyframe. Then the
third keyframe can be found by starting the transferring from the
second keyframe. Repeat this process until all the keyframes are
The pose refinement for the keyframes is based on ICP [45].
However, considering that it will be slow if we put the whole
LiDAR point cloud into the registration, the use of a much smaller
number of EIPs reduces the computational load. And since the
detected interest points will be always in “structured” locations
according to the detection principles, the registration will be less
affected by meaningless areas.
Assume and are the extended interest point clouds in the
previous keyframe and in the current keyframe respectively. And B
is transformed into the coordinate system of in advance. The
registration is to find a pair of optimized rotation matrix and
translation vector . The optimization function is:
 
  
 (7)
where  ,  .
During the experiments, we found that the results are not
accurate enough if we put all the EIPs into all the iterations of ICP.
Therefore, we use a threshold to reject correspondence pairs in
which the point-to-point distance exceeds it. This threshold decays
exponentially during the iterations. The threshold is large at the
beginning so that the objective function converges quickly. Whereas
the latter iterations with smaller thresholds lead to a fine-tuning
registration result.
The refinement of keyframes can reduce the accumulated
errors significantly. However, it only updates the relative poses of
keyframes not the relative poses of the ordinary frames between the
keyframes. This leads to two problems: 1) Firstly, it will lead to a
pose jump between the keyframes and the previous frames of the
keyframes, resulting in an unreal trajectory of the moving platform.
2) Secondly, the accuracy of the ordinary frames’ poses is lower
than it should be. So, a backward pose update method for the
ordinary frames’ poses is carried out.
The basic idea of the backward pose update is that the change
of the keyframe’s pose after the refinement is evenly distributed to
each ordinary frame between keyframes. Firstly, denote the rotation
and translation matrix as equation (8). Assume the frame indexes of
the two keyframes are and , and there are frames to
compute pose update. As for the frame    , based on
the original pose, the update pose  should satisfy equation (9).
   
  (8)
  
Ori (9)
where  and  are the accumulated pose transformations
from frame to frame and from frame to frame respectively.
The computation of is performed in the following equation:
 (10)
After the refinement, denote the change of the pose at frame as
. The solving of  should be performed stepwise from to
according to equation (9). 
Ori can be taken as the
200 20
Input Output
Encoder Decoder
Convolutional layer
Max pooling layer
Upsampling layer
Fully connected layer
Flatten layer
Reshape layer
updated pose of frame during the solving of . Each pose
update of the frames from frame 1 to frame leads around
 pose change for frame n. After the  update, the total pose
change of frame is 
, as in equation (11). 
Ori is the
accumulated pose translation before the refinement from frame to
frame , as in equation (12).
 (11)
 (12)
To achieve the computation of equation (11), 
is divided
into two parts 
and 
.The computation of 
is shown in
equation (14). The solving of the rotation matrix is non-linear
computing, and it is computed by equation (13). Function
 is to convert rotation matrix into three rotation Euler
angles, and function  is to convert the Euler angles into a
rotation matrix. During the convertings, the rotation order of the
three axes follows ‘XYZ’.
 
 (13)
 (14)
4. Experiments and Analysis
This method is aiming at multi-beam LiDAR odometry, and
the final result is evaluated in KITTI odometry benchmark, so all
the experiments, including the experiments of other methods, are
based on the dataset from the benchmark.
KITTI odometry dataset is one of the most widely used datasets
for evaluating computer vision algorithms in autonomous driving
scenarios. Its LiDAR data is collected with Velodyne HDL-64E,
which has 64 laser beams. The dataset has 22 sequences covering
many different scenes, such as city streets, high way, etc.. The first
11 sequences contain ground-truth poses for all the data frames.
They are used for both the comparison with other methods and the
odometry refinement experiment for our own method.
Two points should be noticed about the dataset. Firstly, the data
is collected during the movement of the car, so the points with
different yaw angles may be collected in different locations.
However, the dataset provides the corrected data using the built-in
high accuracy position and pose measurement sensors. Secondly,
however, according to the work in [46], there is an error of  in
the Velodyne sensor. We verified it by ourselves using the data in
KITTI and applied it for our experiments.
4.1 Implementation Details
4.1.1 Spherical Ring Projection
Velodyne HDL-64E is a 3D 64-beam laser scanner with a 10Hz
rotation frequency. It has a  horizontal scanning range with
 angular resolution and a  vertical scanning range
with a proximate  angular step between laser beams. The
distance measurement accuracy is 2cm, and it collects ~ 1.3 million
The projection parameters of spherical ring are set based on the
scanning geometry. But the actual project spherical ring image has
many hollow pixels if the scanning resolution is followed exactly.
This is mainly due to the movement during the collection. To avoid
this properly, we set the projection angle resolution smaller than the
real projection angle resolution. But no more options such as noise
filtering are used, trying to reduce the work on handcrafted
algorithms and manually adjusted parameters. Even so, there are
still some hollow pixels in spherical rings, but we leave this to be
solved by CNN automatically. In the experiment, we set   
and   .
Still because of the platform movement during the data
collection, some points may exceed the vertical angle range of
. To save as much data as possible, we set the number
of rows in spherical ring model as 69, not as the original number 64.
In addition, there will be more than one point in a same spherical
ring pixel during the projection, the last one dropped into the pixel
will cover the previous ones.
4.1.2 Voxel Model
There are several ways to extract multi-scale voxel patches
around detected interest points. For example, the multi-scale voxel
model can be projected and saved in local files at first, and then the
voxel patches can be extracted according to the voxel indexes
computed from the point coordinate values. An alternative way is to
get the neighbor points by kNN algorithm [47] at first and then the
voxel patches can be obtained by the voxelization of the neighbor
points with different voxel resolutions. Here we take a compound
method from these two methods. We save all the valid voxel indexes
of the multi-scale voxel models during the pre-process, and the
voxel patches in multiple scales are got by neighbor voxels
searching using kNN algorithm firstly and by filtering out the voxels
outside of the patches secondly. The parameters for the voxelization
are mentioned in Section 3.3, as    and
4.1.3 Network Details
The details of the networks in Section 3.2 and in Section 3.3
are shown in Table 1 and Table 2 respectively (the number of filters
and the number of channels are shown in bold fonts). Although both
of the networks are convolutional auto-encoders, they are different
from many aspects. Besides that the first network is a 2D CAE and
another one is a 3D CAE, the biggest difference is that the former
one uses only convolutional layers as a local feature response while
the latter one uses both convolutional layers and fully connected
layers for extracting a 1D vector as the feature description of the
input. The activation functions and loss functions used in the
networks are different too. Firstly, we mostly use relu activation
function for both of the networks expect some special layers. In the
2D CAE, only the activation function of the output layer is set as
linear because the output is forced to be the same as the input which
contains negative values. As for the 3D CAE, we set linear
activation function in the middle layer which is the feature layer and
set sigmoid activation function in the last layer which outputs values
of 0 and 1. Secondly, because the values in the input and in the
output are just coordinate values, so the loss function in the 2D CAE
is set to mean squared error, while the loss function in the 3D CAE
is set to binary cross-entropy.
Table 1. Network details of the 2D CAE.
Kernel/Pool size
Output size
  
Table 2. Network details of the 3D CAE.
Kernel/Pool size
Output size
All the LiDAR data in KITTI benchmark are used for
unsupervised training. The training of the networks is done on two
NVIDIA 1080ti graphics cards, with 10 epochs for 2D CAE and 10
epochs for 3D CAE.
4.2 Frame-to-Frame Matching
We evaluate our method and compare our method with
3DFeatNet and USIP directly based on the frame to frame matching
results on KITTI dataset with the same key parameters. The
maximum number of interest points in these three methods is set to
1024. At the same time, we use RANSAC to do the frame to frame
feature-based matching and set the inlier threshold to 1.0m, the
minimum iterations to 100 and the maximum iterations to 10000.
Additionally, for the parameters in our method, we set the nearest
distance for interest points to 10m and set the threshold of
filtering out mediocre points to 0.2.
The experiments of frame to frame matching are based on the
11 training sequences in KITTI benchmark dataset. The
performance is evaluated by Relative Translation Error (RTE),
Relative Rotation Error (RRE), success rate, inlier ratio of the
feature matching, and the average iterations during the RANSAC.
Among them, the computation of RTE and RRE follows the work
in [48]. A matching is regarded as success if    and
 .
Each method contains two parts: interest point detection and
feature extraction. Each part makes efforts to the final feature-based
matching result. To decouple the contributions of the two parts and
to highlight the characteristics of the two parts, we make three tables,
Table 3-1, Table 3-2, and Table 3-3, with different comparison
principles. The data in the three tables are from the same source, but
the first two tables sort the results in different ways to show different
comparisons, and the third table only compares the results of the
three whole methods.
In Table 3-1, the sorted three groups of results show the
comparison on interest point detection. One conclusion can be
observed: our interest points have the best performance on RTE and
success rate, while USIP interest points have the best performance
on RRE, inlier ratio, and average iterations. This difference can be
explained in three aspects.
1) Multi-beam LiDAR collects points with fixed angular
resolutions. However, USIP detects interest points by estimating
their locations not by picking from point cloud. This gives USIP a
smaller RRE. The higher inlier ratios and higher average iterations
mean better repeatability of USIP interest points.
2) The interest points detected by USIP are always
concentrated on structured locations with a relatively bigger scale,
so as to USIP is more likely to ignore the interest points in details.
Therefore, in some scenarios that are not that structured, USIP
interest point tends to cause matching failure. On the contrary, our
method can sensitively detect interest points in local details (see the
comparison in Figure 7), so that in many scenarios where USIP
interest point fails, it can successfully detect matching points,
thereby having a higher success rate.
3) Because of the similar reason in 2), our method has a lower
RTE. The experimented numbers of interest points in the work of
USIP are 128, 256, and 512 [8]. For a well-performed comparison,
we set the number of interest points in USIP to 1024, and the authors
provided their trained model to us. According to our experiment,
USIP also improved the accuracy of matching after increasing the
number of interest points from 256 to 512 and 1024. However, USIP
doesn’t increase its attention on local details because of the increase
in the number of interest points as its interest points usually appear
repeatedly in the same places, while our method can be more
sensitive to local details. Therefore, from this perspective, our
method can detect more interest points with more details and thus
has a lower RTE.
The matching cases in Figure 6 and Figure 7 can explain the
reasons described in 2) and 3) well. Both methods can successfully
match in the first matching case. But in the second matching case,
which is a less structured scenario, the only way to match it
successfully is to at least find out the interest points in small scales.
Apparently, USIP cannot detect out enough suitable interest points,
which causes the matching to fail. However, our method can detect
the small corners on both sides of the highway, thereby significantly
improving the matching success rate in these scenarios. From
another perspective, although the numbers of interest points are the
same in two methods, it still seems like our method detects more
interest points. That is because of that in the case of 1024 interest
points, USIP interest points are concentrated in the same places
repeatedly or concentrated on the areas of intersection of the ground
and the walls. This phenomenon can also be found in the second
matching case. Therefore, the matching performance cannot be
effectively improved.
From Table 3-2, we can get a comparison conclusion: our
descriptor can provide the best performance on most of the metrics:
RTE, RRE, inlier ratios, and average iterations. This is mainly due
to the fact that our feature descriptor can provide robust and reliable
feature descriptions on three scales as small as 0.32m and as big as
10.24m. Small scale feature description can sharply capture local
details while middle-scale feature description and big-scale feature
description can make sure to get a high matching accuracy rate.
Hence, our features can significantly improve success rate on
finding matching pairs for RANSAC to have an over 50% higher
inlier ratio (
 
 
) compared to
other methods. Thereby, the average iterations, RTE and RRE can
be naturally reduced. As for the success rate, there is no conclusion
that one of the descriptors can provide the best performance on this
performance indicator. Because success rate is more sensitive to the
quality of the interest point detection, at least based on these three
Table 3-3 shows the comparison of the results from three full
methods during the frame to frame matching. From the performance
comparison, our method gets the smallest RTE and USIP gets the
smallest RRE. Our method has significant advantages in success
rate, inlier ratio, and average iterations. This also matches the
conclusions and analysis from Table 3-1 and Table 3-2.
In summary, our interest points can capture more local details
so that it can still find enough matching points in scenes where the
structures are not obvious, and our features reach the state-of-the-
art on the inlier ratio and the average iterations during feature-based
Table 3-1. Frame-to-frame matching comparison for interest point detection on KITTI.
Interest point+ Desc.
RTE (m)
RRE ()
Success Rate (%)
Inlier Ratio (%)
Avg # iter
3DFeatNet + 3DFeatNet
USIP + 3DFeatNet
Ours + 3DFeatNet
3DFeatNet + USIP
Ours + USIP
3DFeatNet + Ours
USIP + Ours
Ours + Ours
Table 3-2. Frame-to-frame matching comparison for feature description on KITTI.
Interest point + Desc.
RTE (m)
RRE ()
Success Rate
Inlier Ratio
Avg # iter
3DFeatNet + 3DFeatNet
3DFeatNet + USIP
3DFeatNet + Ours
USIP + 3DFeatNet
USIP + Ours
Ours + 3DFeatNet
Ours + USIP
Ours + Ours
Table 3-3. Frame-to-frame matching comparison for full methods on KITTI.
Interest point + Desc.
RTE (m)
RRE ()
Success Rate
Inlier Ratio
Avg # iter
3DFeatNet + 3DFeatNet
Ours + Ours
Figure 6. The comparison on interest detection and feature matching of the method USIP (left) and our method (right) in an ordinary matching scenario.
The red points are the detected interest points and the black lines are the matches after RANSAC. Both methods detect 1024 interest points and take 100
iterations. USIP gets a 59.0% inlier ratio and our method gets a 62.1% inlier ratio.
Figure 7. The matching comparison of the method USIP (first row) and our method (second row) in a difficult scenario. In the first column, the red points
are the detected interest points and the linking lines are the matches after RANSAC. The second column is the fused point cloud after the matching, with
different point clouds are shown in different colors. Both methods detect 1024 interest points. USIP takes 197 iterations with a 28.5% inlier ratio and our
method takes 137 iterations with a 32.1% inlier ratio.
4.3 Odometry Refinement and Result
During the frame to frame matching, the indexes of the
matching pairs are saved to local files. After that, the keyframes can
be obtained according to the method in Section 3.4 by offline
processing. Finally, the odometry refinement is done with the EIPs
using ICP-based registration. In this experiment, for the extraction
of EIPs, we set the parameter of to 7, and set the half neighbor
size for EIPs to 2. To achieve higher accuracy, we also use the
ground points with their normal vectors to join in the ICP-based
registration. Since the obtaining of ground points and the normal
vectors, not like the obtaining of EIPs, have little to do with the two
CAEs, they are not further presented in this paper.
A statistic for the frame length between keyframes is made on
the 11 sequences in KITTI, and the data distribution is shown in
Figure 8. There are 2668 times of ICP-based refinements, most of
the frame lengths are between 3 and 14. In other words, according
to the data gathering frequency, the time difference between two
keyframes is usually between 0.3 and 1.4 seconds. Therefore, it
won’t cause too much computation because of the too-short distance
between keyframes and the registration failure due to the too long
distance between keyframes can also be limited.
Figure 8. The distribution of the number of frames between two
At the same time, we also do the statistic of the error decrease
after the refinement. As shown in Figure 9, the RTE of the relative
poses between keyframes decreases from  to . And
the RRE of the relative poses between keyframes decreases
from  to  . And also, the corresponding standard
deviations decrease.
Figure 9. The distribution comparison of the relative pose error between
two keyframes before (left) and after (after) the odometry refinement.
The backward pose update after the refinement for keyframes
can eliminate the pose jump to make the trajectories be more real.
The visualization of one case of backward pose update is shown in
Figure 10. There will always be a pose jump before one keyframe,
but after the backward pose update, the relative pose is smooth
everywhere, including the directions of the frames.
Figure 10. The comparison of odometry without and with backward pose
update after refinement. Left, without backward update; right, with a
backward update. Each green dot represents a position of a frame and the
red arrows represent the axes of its coordinate system.
5. Discussion
The 2D CAE part utilizes the projected spherical ring data
structure, which is a very compact data representation method for
LiDAR point cloud and which also makes it very suitable for CNNs
with mature technology. Firstly, EIPs, which are used for ICP-based
registration refinement, can be easily extracted from spherical rings
according to the detected interest points. Secondly, based on the
projected spherical ring, further research aiming at other tasks such
as segmentation can be conducted. Thirdly, the idea of interest point
detection can also be used in any other 2D structured data like 2D
ordinary images for image registration.
The 3D CAE part shows a solution for multi-scale feature
extraction based on multi-resolution voxel model. The voxel model
has the advantages of preserving the original data shape and the
constant real-size scale in each location, which is very suitable for
feature extraction. Otherwise, a bigger voxel patch with a small
voxel size aiming at extracting higher location accuracy and a bigger
receptive area will lead to a very high hardware consumption and a
slow operation. The multi-resolution voxel model is similar to the
idea of image pyramid, which can provide multi-scale features with
the same neighbor data size. This point, combined with the idea of
3D CAE with unsupervised training, makes our descriptor reach
over 50% improvement of the performance compared to the state-
There are some additional notes on the two parts. Firstly, our
interest point is more likely to detect the sharp details, not like the
detecting strategy in UISP. This difference can be found in Figure 6
and Figure 7. Secondly, our interest points are also scattered in
distance areas more. According to the authors in [46], points in close
distance are not very effective at constraining the rotations of a scan
registration problem. So, from this perspective, our more scattered
distance interest points let our method have advantages in feature-
based registration. Thirdly, many methods based on PointNet, such
as 3DFeatNet and UISP, use downsample to decrease the number of
points, but our spherical ring model and the multi-scale voxel model
can largely save the original information to maximize the matching
accuracy. Fourthly, there is no particular design for rotation
invariant of the descriptor, which means our descriptors may fail to
match if there is a large angle difference between two matching
frames. This is because that CNN itself has some rotation invariance
[49] and also because that the frame to frame matching doesn’t need
significant rotation invariance. If needed, there are several ways to
do this, such as utilizing direction estimation and alignment.
Besides the two CAEs for interest point detection and feature
extraction, we also propose a keyframe selection method and a
backward pose update method. As far as we know, this is the first
time of using the matching pairs transferring to do the keyframe
selection and there is also no literature that shows the same
backward pose update method based on our idea. More applications
based on these two parts should be carried out.
We name our method as CAE-LO, and after adding the ground
constraint based on normal estimation, which is not shown in this
paper, our method achieved 0.86% accuracy in KITTI benchmark
[1]. We also release our code of the initial odometry part and the
data used in the comparisons.
6. Conclusion
CAE-LO is proposed, leveraging fully unsupervised
convolutional auto-encoder for interest point detection and feature
extraction from multi-beam LiDAR point cloud. From the designed
comparison experiments with the methods of state-of-the-art, our
interest point detection is more capable to detect local details,
thereby improving the matching success rate in scenarios where the
structure is not obvious, and our features show over 50%
improvement in matching inlier ratio.
Besides, as the important parts in many solutions like odometry
and SLAM, the proposed matching pair transferring based keyframe
selection method, the ICP-based registration using EIPs, and the
backward pose update method show their feasibility and accuracy
improvement on refined odometry.
This study was supported in part by the Natural Science Fund
of China with Project No. 41874031, the Technology Innovation
Program of Hubei Province with Project No. 2018AAA070, the
Natural Science Fund of Hubei Province with Project No.
2018CFA007, China Scholarship Council (CSC) (No.
201806270196), MOE (Ministry of Education in China) Project of
Humanities and Social Sciences with Project No. 18YJCZH242,
and Humanities and Social Sciences project of Hubei Provincial
Department of Education No. 18Q059.
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Conference Paper
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We present L3-Net - a novel learning-based LiDAR localization system that achieves centimeter-level localization accuracy, comparable to prior state-of-the-art systems with hand-crafted pipelines. Rather than relying on these hand-crafted modules, we innovatively implement the use of various deep neural network structures to establish a learning-based approach. L3-Net learns local descriptors specifically optimized for matching in different real-world driving scenarios. 3D convolutions over a cost volume built in the solution space significantly boosts the localization accuracy. RNNs are demonstrated to be effective in modeling the vehicle's dynamics, yielding better temporal smoothness and accuracy. We comprehensively validate the effectiveness of our approach using freshly collected datasets. Multiple trials of repetitive data collection over the same road and areas make our dataset ideal for testing localization systems. The SunnyvaleBigLoop sequences, with a year's time interval between the collected mapping and testing data, made it quite challenging, but the low localization error of our method in these datasets demonstrates its maturity for real industrial implementation.
Recent advancements in perception for autonomous driving are driven by deep learning. In order to achieve robust and accurate scene understanding, autonomous vehicles are usually equipped with different sensors (e.g. cameras, LiDARs, Radars), and multiple sensing modalities can be fused to exploit their complementary properties. In this context, many methods have been proposed for deep multi-modal perception problems. However, there is no general guideline for network architecture design, and questions of "what to fuse", "when to fuse", and "how to fuse" remain open. This review paper attempts to systematically summarize methodologies and discuss challenges for deep multi-modal object detection and semantic segmentation in autonomous driving. To this end, we first provide an overview of on-board sensors on test vehicles, open datasets, and background information for object detection and semantic segmentation in autonomous driving research. We then summarize the fusion methodologies and discuss challenges and open questions. In the appendix, we provide tables that summarize topics and methods. We also provide an interactive online platform to navigate each reference: