Navigation and Mapping in Forest Environment Using Sparse Point Clouds

Paavo Nevalainen, Qingqing LI, Timo Melkas, Kirsi Riekki, Tomi Westerlund, Jukka Heikkonen

Odometry during forest operations is demanding, involving limited field of vision (FOV), back-and-forth work cycle movements, and occasional close obstacles, which create problems for state-of-the-art systems. We propose a two-phase on-board process, where tree stem registration produces a sparse point cloud (PC) which is then used for simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM). A field test was carried out using a harvester with a laser scanner and a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) performing forest thinning over a 520 m strip route. Two SLAM methods are used: The proposed sparse SLAM (sSLAM) and a standard method, LeGO-LOAM (LLOAM). A generic SLAM post-processing method is presented, which improves the odometric accuracy with a small additional processing cost. The sSLAM method uses only tree stem centers, reducing the allocated memory to approximately 1% of the total PC size. Odometry and mapping comparisons between sSLAM and LLOAM are presented. Both methods show 85% agreement in registration within 15 m of the strip road and odometric accuracy of 0.5 m per 100 m. Accuracy is evaluated by comparing the harvester location derived through odometry to locations collected by a GNSS receiver mounted on the harvester.