The French Military Robotic Study Program (introduced in Aerosense 2003), sponsored by the French Defense Procurement Agency and managed by Thales Airborne Systems as the prime contractor, focuses on about 15 robotic themes, which can provide an immediate "operational add-on value." The paper details the "road and track following" theme (named AUT2), which main purpose was to develop a vision based sub-system to automatically detect roadsides of an extended range of roads and tracks suitable to military missions. To achieve the goal, efforts focused on three main areas:
(1) Improvement of images quality at algorithms inputs, thanks to the selection of adapted video cameras, and the development of a THALES patented algorithm: it removes in real time most of the disturbing shadows in images taken in natural environments, enhances contrast and lowers reflection effect due to films of water.
(2) Selection and improvement of two complementary algorithms (one is segment oriented, the other region based)
(3) Development of a fusion process between both algorithms, which feeds in real time a road model with the best available data.
Each previous step has been developed so that the global perception process is reliable and safe: as an example, the process continuously evaluates itself and outputs confidence criteria qualifying roadside detection. The paper presents the processes in details, and the results got from passed military acceptance tests, which trigger the next step: autonomous track following (named AUT3).