Structure from motion (SFM) pipeline for highway driving scenes, based on OpenSFM
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Structure from motion (SFM) for highway driving scenes

We are given five videos of driving the same stretch of highway. For example, one of the videos looks like this:

video 1

The goal is to estimate the relative 3D pose of the camera in each frame of each video (up to scale). This repo shows a way to solve this problem using a custom SFM pipeline built on top of OpenSFM.

The screenshots below show what the final map looks like. The cameras are color-coded to identify each video: red for 0_*.jpg, green for 1_*.jpg, blue for 2_*.jpg, yellow for 3_*.jpg, and magenta for 4_*.jpg. It can be seen clearly that the videos were taken from two different lanes.



The following files are provided:

dataset/        - contains the images from each video
sample_output/  - example output reconstruction
viewer/         - the viewer from opensfm, tweaked to color-code cameras       - you're reading it        - cleans a dataset      - runs the entire reconstruction pipeline on a dataset

The code uses building blocks from OpenSFM, and has the same dependencies.

To build the reconstruction, run:

./ dataset

where $OPENSFM_INSTALL_DIR is wherever you installed OpenSFM. Note that because of RANSAC, you may get slightly different results each time you run the above. Two or three runs should be enough to get a reconstruction as good as the one provided in sample_output/reconstruction.json and shown in the screenshots above.

To visualize the reconstruction, run:

python -m SimpleHTTPServer

then point your browser to http://localhost:8000/viewer/reconstruction.html#file=/dataset/reconstruction.json. Hit refresh to read the latest reconstruction. If you just want to visualize the reconstruction provided in sample_output, go to http://localhost:8000/viewer/reconstruction.html#file=/sample_output/reconstruction.json instead.

How it works

First, I wanted to see how far I could get by just using OpenSFM out of the box. It turned out that out-of-the-box OpenSFM produced a pretty bad reconstruction, so I dug in to figure out how to improve it.

A sketch of the OpenSFM reconstruction pipeline

Here is a sketch of OpenSFM's reconstruction pipeline, based on a quick reading of their code. I will discuss below how my pipeline differs from theirs.

  1. Extract camera params and GPS coordinates from EXIF data -- not relevant since our images lack EXIF data.

  2. Extract features from each image.

  3. For each image, find candidate images to match with, based on GPS data -- in our case, since there is no GPS data, all image pairs are considered.

    1. Optionally use a cheap preemptive matching to quickly discard the pair of images if they don't match very well.
    2. Compute symmetric matches. These are feature pairs (f1, f2) in image1 and image2 respectively, where f2 is the best match for f1, and vice versa, and the second-best match in each image is much worse.
    3. Compute robust matches by finding a fundamental matrix that maps points from one image to the other, computing reprojection error w.r.t. this fundamental matrix, and discarding outliers.
  4. Create tracks graph. A track is a feature that has been matched in 2 or more images. Each track has a unique id. (In the reconstruction, every track will become a point in 3D, triangulated from the images in which it appears.)

    The tracks graph is a bipartite graph with images on the left side and track ids on the right side. An edge between image_i and track_j indicates that the given track occurs in the given image. The edge stores the image coordinates and feature id of that correspondence.

    Note that symmetric feature matching is crucial for getting valid tracks. If f1 in image1 is matched to f2 in image2, but f2 in image2 is matched to f3 != f1 in image1, we would have an invalid track that goes through two different features in image1.

  5. Bootstrap the 3D reconstruction.

    1. Pick a pair of "shots" (a shot is an image taken from a given pose) (image1, image2) to bootstrap the reconstruction with. They do this by computing a homography between every pair of candidate images and choosing the pair with minimal reprojection error.
    2. Set the pose of the first camera to (R1=I, t1=0), and compute the relative pose of the second camera (R2, t2). Note that t is ambiguous up to scale, but that will be taken care of in the bundle adjustment step below.
    3. Triangulate all common tracks between image1 and image2, adding them as 3D points to the reconstruction and removing any outliers.
    4. Bundle-adjust the pose of the second camera to minimize reprojection error.
  6. Iteratively "grow" the 3D reconstruction.

    1. Pick the next shot image3 to add to the reconstruction, preferring images that have a lot of tracks that are already present in the reconstruction built so far.
    2. Solve for the absolute pose of the new shot, by using its correspondences with 3D points that are already present in the reconstruction. This is call resectioning.
    3. Add the new shot to the scene and bundle-adjust it by itself. (This optimizes the pose of the new shot, holding everything else constant.)
    4. Triangulate any new points that occur in image3 and some image already in the reconstruction.
    5. Bundle-adjust the whole reconstruction. (This optimizes the pose of all shots and the 3D location of all points, jointly.)
    6. Pick the next image4 and repeat.
  7. If the above process did not use all images (e.g. because there were not enough common tracks), bootstrap a second reconstruction, and so on.

Tweaks for our specific problem

There are a few things I noticed right away that made the built-in OpenSFM pipeline less than ideal for our problem:

  • Without EXIF tags, they assume every shot was taken with the same camera, with unknown focal length and distortion parameters. In our case, each video was taken with a potentially different camera.

  • Without GPS, they compute feature matches between all pairs of images. This is slow, and can lead to incorrect tracks if e.g. a feature in 0_1.jpg is matched to a feature in 0_9.jpg, since the two frames are too far apart to have any reliable features in common.

  • They prune features very aggressively (symmetric matches based on second-best rule, then robust matches based on computing a fundamental matrix). This works fine when you have lots of images of the same scene, but in our case it leads to extreme feature sparsity.

  • The homography-based method to pick the two images to start the reconstruction with might work OK if the images are all of the same approximately planar scene, like the face of a building. But our images are not even of the same "scene", since each frame moves forward, and anyway, the scene is far from being planar.

  • It's tough to triangulate points when the second camera sits directly in front of the first camera, since the rays from the camera centers to the 3D point are nearly parallel. Lowering the triangulation_min_ray_angle parameter helps avoid discarding too many of these points.

  • OpenSFM assumes a static scene, but in our case there are other cars moving on the freeway. A crude workaround is to simply discard any features extracted from the road part of each image. This can be achieved using masks (regions of the image from which to discard any extracted features).

Setting up masks and tuning triangulation_min_ray_angle was enough to reconstruct the 0_*.jpg video using the OpenSFM pipeline. But adding more images from the other videos still produced a bad reconstruction. So I decided to write my own pipeline using building blocks from OpenSFM.

Custom reconstruction pipeline

Here is how my pipeline differs from the OpenSFM pipeline:

  • Feature extraction:

    • Use masks to avoid bad image areas (road with moving cars, windshield dead zones).
  • Feature matching:

    • Don't match every image pair. Instead, match each image (e.g. 2_5.jpg) to its previous and next frame in the same video (2_4.jpg and 2_6.jpg), and to the corresponding frame in all other videos (0_5.jpg, 1_5.jpg, etc). This works well because the videos are more or less aligned (i.e. the car is moving at roughly the same speed, and the sampling frequency is roughly the same). For a more general approach, it would be better to match images and add them to the tracks graph dynamically, instead of in a preprocessing step.

    • Use the symmetric matches directly; don't prune them any further with their "robust matching" technique.

      Note: Even symmetric matches can be too sparse; e.g. 1_8.jpg and 1_9.jpg have only 18 symmetric matches. And only a subset of those might appear in the reconstruction. I tried several techniques to get more matches:

      • Increase lowes_ratio to make the second-best pruning rule less aggressive.
      • Write my custom matcher match_custom to avoid the second-best pruning altogether. I left this in the code so you can see how it works, but it did not end up improving the results.

      In the end, what worked best was using the original symmetric matches, but making sure that several videos were reconstructed together. For example, when reconstructing video 1_*.jpg by itself, 1_8.jpg and 1_9.jpg have 18 symmetric matches and only 4 of them occur in the reconstruction before the 1_9.jpg shot is added, so getting a good pose for 1_9.jpg is really hard. When reconstructing all videos together, 1_8.jpg and 1_9.jpg still have only 18 symmetric matches, but 13 of them occur in the reconstruction, making the pose estimation much easier.

  • Reconstruction:

    • Give each video a separate set of camera parameters, but make all frames in the same video share the same parameters. This allows the bundle adjustment step to find different focal lengths and distortion parameters for the different cameras.

    • Use a custom image pair to start with, and a custom order in which to "grow" (add images to) the reconstruction. I tried several approaches here (see get_reconstruction_order), and settled on a predetermined heuristic order. For example, the 0_*.jpg video is pretty easy to reconstruct, so it helps to reconstruct it entirely before adding shots from other videos.

    • Avoid the complicated resectioning that OpenSFM does. In the bootstrap step, OpenSFM solves a relative pose problem, but in the grow step it solves an absolute pose problem. I wrote my pipeline to solve a relative pose problem in both cases, thus making it more simple, reducing the number of building blocks from OpenGV that I need to use, and making the hint_forward trick (described below) possible. The downside is that each new shot being added to the reconstruction needs a reference shot (already in the reconstruction) from which to compute its relative pose. This is easy in our case, since the frames in each video have a natural ordering.

    • Take advantage of the fact that the camera moves forward from frame i to frame i+1, with very little rotation, and a translation that is mostly along the z axis. When computing the pose of successive frames from the same video, I pass hint_forward=True into my custom reconstruction routine. This causes it to retry finding the relative pose between the two views (using RANSAC) until it finds a transformation that agrees with the z-axis motion described above.

      Note: This is a rather crude approach to get the job done quickly, and there are more elegant ways of handling this:

This is enough to solve the given problem, but there are lots of ways to make the pipeline more robust. I described some of them above, and left some as FIXMEs in the code.