In recent decades, terrain modelling and reconstruction techniques have increased research interest in precise short and long distance autonomous navigation, localisation and mapping within field robotics. One of the most challenging applications is in relation to autonomous planetary exploration using mobile robots. Rovers deployed to explore extraterrestrial surfaces are required to perceive and model the environment with little or no intervention from the ground station. Up to date, stereopsis represents the state-of-the art method and can achieve short-distance planetary surface modelling. However, future space missions will require scene reconstruction at greater distance, fidelity and feature complexity, potentially using other sensors like Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR). LIDAR has been extensively exploited for target detection, identification, and depth estimation in terrestrial robotics, but is still under development to become a viable technology for space robotics. This paper will first review current methods for scene reconstruction and terrain modelling using cameras in planetary robotics and LIDARs in terrestrial robotics; then we will propose camera-LIDAR fusion as a feasible technique to overcome the limitations of either of these individual sensors for planetary exploration. A comprehensive analysis will be presented to demonstrate the advantages of camera-LIDAR fusion in terms of range, fidelity, accuracy and computation.
Keywords: 3-D reconstruction; LIDAR-camera fusion; hybrid vision systems; planetary surface perception; terrain modelling.