A robotics group at MIT has developed a real-time visual odometry system that can use a Kinect to provide fast and accurate estimates of a vehicle's 3D trajectory. This system is based on recent advances in visual odometry research, and combines a number of ideas from the state-of-the-art algorithms. It aligns successive camera frames by matching features across images, and uses the Kinect-derived depth estimates to determine the camera's motion.
The group has integrated the visual odometry into our Quadrotor system, which was previously developed for controlling the vehicle with laser scan-matching. The visual odometry runs in real-time, onboard the vehicle, and its estimates have low enough delay that we are successfully able to control the quadrotor using only the Kinect and onboard IMU, enabling fully autonomous 3D flight in unknown GPS-denied environments. Notably, it does not require a motion capture system or other external sensors -- all sensing and computation required for local position control is done onboard the vehicle.