The main focus of this paper is on extracting features with SOund Navigation And Ranging (SONAR) sensing for further underwater landmark-based Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM). According to the characteristics of sonar images, in this paper, an improved Otsu threshold segmentation method (TSM) has been developed for feature detection. In combination with a contour detection algorithm, the foreground objects, although presenting different feature shapes, are separated much faster and more precisely than by other segmentation methods. Tests have been made with side-scan sonar (SSS) and forward-looking sonar (FLS) images in comparison with other four TSMs, namely the traditional Otsu method, the local TSM, the iterative TSM and the maximum entropy TSM. For all the sonar images presented in this work, the computational time of the improved Otsu TSM is much lower than that of the maximum entropy TSM, which achieves the highest segmentation precision among the four above mentioned TSMs. As a result of the segmentations, the centroids of the main extracted regions have been computed to represent point landmarks which can be used for navigation, e.g., with the help of an Augmented Extended Kalman Filter (AEKF)-based SLAM algorithm. The AEKF-SLAM approach is a recursive and iterative estimation-update process, which besides a prediction and an update stage (as in classical Extended Kalman Filter (EKF)), includes an augmentation stage. During navigation, the robot localizes the centroids of different segments of features in sonar images, which are detected by our improved Otsu TSM, as point landmarks. Using them with the AEKF achieves more accurate and robust estimations of the robot pose and the landmark positions, than with those detected by the maximum entropy TSM. Together with the landmarks identified by the proposed segmentation algorithm, the AEKF-SLAM has achieved reliable detection of cycles in the map and consistent map update on loop closure, which is shown in simulated experiments.
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