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An improved segmentation approach for planar surfaces from unstructured 3D point clouds

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The extraction of object features from massive unstructured point clouds with different local densities, especially in the presence of random noisy points, is not a trivial task even if that feature is a planar surface. Segmentation is the most important step in the feature extraction process. In practice, most segmentation approaches use geometrical information to segment the 3D point cloud. The features generally include the position of each point (X, Y and Z), locally estimated surface normals and residuals of best fitting surfaces; however, these features could be affected by noisy points and in consequence directly affect the segmentation results. Therefore, massive unstructured and noisy point clouds also lead to bad segmentation (over-segmentation, under-segmentation or no segmentation). While the RANSAC (random sample consensus) algorithm is effective in the presence of noise and outliers, it has two significant disadvantages, namely, its efficiency and the fact that the plane detected by RANSAC may not necessarily belong to the same object surface; that is, spurious surfaces may appear, especially in the case of parallel-gradual planar surfaces such as stairs. The innovative idea proposed in this paper is a modification for the RANSAC algorithm called Seq-NV-RANSAC. This algorithm checks the normal vector (NV) between the existing point clouds and the hypothesised RANSAC plane, which is created by three random points, under an intuitive threshold value. After extracting the first plane, this process is repeated sequentially (Seq) and automatically, until no planar surfaces can be extracted from the remaining points under the existing threshold value. This prevents the extraction of spurious surfaces, brings an improvement in quality to the computed attributes and increases the degree of automation of surface extraction. Thus the best fit is achieved for the real existing surfaces.
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Keywords: RANSAC algorithm; feature extraction; fit to reality; normal vectors; planar surfaces; segmentation; terrestrial laser scanner; unstructured 3D point clouds

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: ( ), Email: 2: ( ), Email: 3: ( ), Email: 4: ( )State Key Laboratory of Information Engineering in Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing, Wuhan University, China, Email:

Publication date: 2010-03-01

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