Ubicoders - skill up coding skills ubiquitously!

Deep Visual Inertial Odometry

Visual inertial odometry using convolutional neural network and Kalman filter

Picture of the author
Elliot Lee - May.3

Exploring Visual Odometry: A Dive into Position Estimation without GPS

Visual odometry is a fascinating field that delves into estimating a camera's motion through analyzing a sequence of images. Unlike traditional methods relying on GPS, visual odometry provides a way to navigate and understand the environment purely through visual inputs. In this blog post, I'll walk you through the intricacies of visual odometry using a convolutional neural network (CNN), highlighting its potential and challenges in real-world applications.

Understanding Visual Odometry

At its core, visual odometry involves processing a stream of images to estimate movement and ultimately, the XYZ position of a camera. This method integrates velocity estimates from consecutive images, plotted in real-time on a Z vs. X graph, resembling a map view as the camera moves. This technique is highly beneficial in environments where GPS signals are weak or unavailable.

The Role of CNN in Visual Odometry

The project I'm discussing leverages a CNN to estimate camera motion end-to-end. This approach is intriguing because it handles the entire process—from feature detection to motion estimation—within a single neural network framework. Traditionally, visual odometry involves several steps:

  1. Image Rectification: Correcting image distortions such as barrel distortion, common in raw camera feeds.
  2. Feature Extraction: Identifying significant features within images, like edges or corners, using algorithms like those available in OpenCV.
  3. Feature Matching: Establishing correspondences between features in consecutive images to assist in motion estimation.
  4. 3D Point Cloud Creation: Using stereo images and epipolar geometry to map the 3D points of the observed features.

These steps are computationally intensive and require precise calibration and alignment of the camera system.

Innovations with CNNs and Deep Learning

The real breakthrough comes from integrating CNNs with traditional visual odometry methods. CNNs can process raw images directly and estimate optical flows—a measure of pixel movement between consecutive frames—without the need for manual feature extraction or image rectification. This process simplifies the workflow and accelerates the computation, allowing real-time applications.

Moreover, when combined with inertial measurement unit (IMU) data, CNNs can enhance the estimation accuracy, providing a robust solution for dynamic environments like moving vehicles or drones.

Deep Learning vs. Traditional Methods

Deep learning offers a streamlined approach, eliminating the need for explicit feature extraction and calibration steps. However, it requires substantial computational resources and a vast amount of training data to achieve high accuracy. The integration of CNNs with traditional visual odometry techniques presents a hybrid method where deep learning aids in feature matching and motion estimation while relying on proven geometric algorithms to ensure robustness.

Challenges and Future Directions

One of the significant challenges in deploying visual odometry in real-world applications is handling diverse and dynamic environments. The model needs to be trained extensively across various scenarios to generalize well. Additionally, integrating deep learning models with hardware-specific optimizations can further enhance performance and reduce computational overhead.

The future of visual odometry looks promising, with advancements in AI and machine learning continuously improving the accuracy and efficiency of these systems. The convergence of traditional computational methods with modern neural networks opens up new possibilities for autonomous navigation systems, especially in GPS-denied environments.


Visual odometry, particularly when enhanced with CNNs and deep learning techniques, presents a viable alternative to GPS-based navigation systems. As technology advances, the potential applications of visual odometry expand, paving the way for more autonomous and intelligent systems capable of navigating complex environments with minimal human intervention.

Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences with visual odometry or any questions you might have about deploying these technologies in real-world applications. Your insights are valuable to furthering this discussion and exploring new possibilities in the realm of computer vision and autonomous navigation.