The MODISSA testbed

Experimental platform for hardware evaluation and software development

MODISSA, a mobile sensor carrier
Fig. 1: MODISSA in front of the institute building in Ettlingen, Germany.
Blick ins Innere des Technologieträgers MODISSA
Fig. 2: A row of passenger seats is arranged for people operating the system or watching real-time processing demonstrations.
Rechnernetzwerk im Inneren von MODISSA
Fig. 3: Control of the sensors and data acquisition are performed by several connected PCs: A control PC, several recording PCs, and a powerful processing PC..

Mission and goals

In the near future, vehicles will be equipped with a variety of sensors, computers, and communication systems, for example to implement driver assistance functions. On the civilian market, this development is largely driven by a growing interest in safety and comfort. Additionally, the military has an increasing demand for situation-awareness capabilities in their vehicles. These trends have become well established in the scientific community. However, current research on these topics is often hampered by the lack of an adequate, configurable testing and demonstration platform.

A versatile research vehicle is needed that provides testing and analysis functionalities for a wide range of sensors and various operating scenarios. Depending on the investigated scenario such a vehicle can even play different roles, for example a leader or follower in a convoy, a single vehicle in traffic, or a command and control vehicle. Example applications for its sensors are obstacle detection and avoidance, traffic monitoring, acquisition of 3D data, change detection, as well as target location, target tracking, target designation and target handoff between vehicles. It is even possible to simulate a network of multiple vehicles and their interaction.

The MODISSA platform

MODISSA (Mobile Distributed Situation Awareness) is the IOSB's realization of an experimental platform for hardware evaluation and software development in the above contexts of automotive safety, security, and military applications. It is based on a Volkswagen van VW T5 that has been equipped with a broad range of sensors and contains hardware for complete raw data capture, real-time data analysis, and immediate data visualization on in-car displays (Figure 1). The VW van carries several sensors on a roof rack, and a power supply as well as operational electronics inside. The sensor configuration can be adapted to the needs of the respective study. The electronics, including several PCs, are located in a rack behind the driver's seat. A row of passenger seats behind it is arranged for people operating the system or watching real-time processing demonstrations (Figure 2). The power for the sensor system is provided by four high-capacity Li-ion batteries that are stored in a box in the back of the van. This power system has sufficient capacity for several hours of independent operation.

Control of the sensors and data acquisition are performed by several connected PCs in a rack inside the van (Figure 3). Three types of PCs are included: A control PC, several recording PCs, and a powerful processing PC. For geo-referencing and time synchronization, an inertial navigation system is built into the van. Its IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) is mounted on the same mounting plate as the main sensors to minimize errors caused by the plate's elasticity. GPS antennas are positioned on the roof near the front and back of the vehicle.

The sensors are mounted on plates fastened to two cross bars of a standard roof rack. The current sensor configuration includes several rotating laser scanners, a setup of eight cameras for omnidirectional view, and two cameras on a pan-tilt unit (one visual-range camera and one microbolometer infrared camera). Two laser scanners are located ahead of both roof rack bars over the front corners of the vehicle roof, and each is positioned on a wedge with selectable slope and orientation. Different geometric configurations can guarantee a good coverage of the roadway in front of the car or allow scanning of building facades alongside and behind it. A vertical plate between the laser scanners serves to shield these from mutual direct laser radiation. The omnidirectional imaging setup consists of eight cameras, two in each corner of the car, and the pan-tilt unit is located in the center of the vehicle between the rack bars to reduce interference with the two laser scanners.

Video 1: Synchronized use of MODISSA's omnidirectional cameras and scanning LiDAR sensors provides textured 3D point clouds of the environment while driving. The zigzag driving pattern shown at the beginning of the video is intented for geometric calibration of the sensors.

Conclusion and Outlook

The MODISSA testbed has already undergone several upgrades in recent years. Among the currently implemented applications are multi-sensor data acquisition and the investigation of new concepts for the cooperative use of different sensors. In the future, MODISSA will continue to be used for detailed experiments and testing within the scope of various projects, for example for pedestrian detection, collision warning, target recognition and target handoff, as well as for area-wide 3D terrain model acquisition. A rather simple application example is shown in Video 1: geo-referenced 3D point clouds acquired with MODISSA can be supplemented with RGB- or IR-image data (captured with MODISSA itself or with other platforms).

Further information

The following publication describes our experiences to date in setting up and operating MODISSA. This includes the motivation for setting up MODISSA, the selection and mounting of the sensors, details on their calibration, the data recording and the real-time processing system, aspects of data protection, and research examples based on three different applications:

Borgmann, B., Schatz, V., Hammer, M., Hebel, M., Arens, M., Stilla, U., 2021. MODISSA: a multipurpose platform for the prototypical realization of vehicle-related applications using optical sensors. Applied Optics, Volume 60, Issue 22, pp. F50-F65. [DOI: 10.1364/AO.423599] [arXiv] [BibTeX]

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