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Autonomous Mobile Robot #1: Data collection to a trained model

31 Mar 2018 » amr, deeplearning, machinelearning


  1. Autonomous Mobile Robot #1: Data collection to a trained model
  2. Autonomous Mobile Robot #2: Inference as a ROS service
  3. Autonomous Mobile Robot #3: Pairing with a PS3 Controller for teleop
  4. Autonomous Mobile Robot #4: Integrating with GCP


These notes will be to document the progress related to the AMR project found in this repo, where AMR stands for autonomous mobile robot. The base robot is assumed to be a Donkey at the time of writing, the RC car based autonomous race car popularized by DIY Robocars originating out of the US. Any advice on system design, coding, anything is much appreciated.

The objective is to create an autonomous mobile robot that can function in a diverse range of environments.

The assumed set up is that we have a raspi connected to a disassembled RC car as specified in the Donkey documents. [1] In contrast to the Donkey software we will be using primarily ROS (Kinetic) running on Ubuntu Mate 16.04.1.

The following code will bring up the environment to allow for the teleoperation of the mobile robot, and initiate the data collection and storage process.

$ git clone https://github.com/surfertas/amr_core.git
$ cd amr_worker/amr_bringup/launch/
$ roslaunch amr_teleop_bringup.launch

Make sure that the external packages joy package and videostream_opencv are installed and placed in the amr_worker directory.

Thanks to the below as some of the code in this repo has been influenced by them. (Licenses have been respected to the best of my knowledge.)

Collecting the data and storing

The project uses ROS middleware. In order to train a deep learning model, we need to first collect data. ROS uses a pub/sub protocol which facilitates an environment that is actually quite conducive for the data collection process.

Sensor data is published over ROS topics. Any person interested in the data can simply subscribe to the respective ROS topic, and obtain the data as it is published. (Not really ideal from a safety perspective, though is addressed in ROS2.)

For this project, the data collection process is handled by the amr_data_processor package. The script amr_data_storage_node.py has the specific implementation. The required configurations need to be set in data_storage.yaml found in the amr_data_processor/config directory before using.

We throw away non-synced data and only collect synced data as the publishing frequency for each sensor is likely to be different. We simplify the problem by only storing data that is synchronized by using the ApproximateTimeSynchronizer() [1] method which allows for the synchronization of different topics. See below for snippet showing an example usage of this method. I have included the initialization of the synchronizer as well as the associated call back function. The full source can be found here. Details of the sync algorithm can be found at the ROS wiki site. [2]

def _init_subscribers(self):
    """ Set up subscribers and sync. """
    # Initialize subscribers.
    img_sub = message_filters.Subscriber(self._img_topic, CompressedImage)
    cmd_sub = message_filters.Subscriber(self._cmd_topic, Command2D)
    subs = [img_sub, cmd_sub]

    # Sync subscribers
    self._sync = message_filters.ApproximateTimeSynchronizer(
    rospy.loginfo("Synced subscribers initialized...")
def _sync_sub_callback(self, img, cmd):
    """ Call back for synchronize image and command subscribers.
        img - image message of type CompressedImage
        cmd - velocity message of type TwistStamped
    if len(self._img_path_array) < self._capacity:
        cv_img = cv2.imdecode(np.fromstring(img.data, np.uint8), 1)
        path = os.path.join(self._data_dir, '{}.png'.format(rospy.get_rostime()))
        cv2.imwrite(path, cv_img)

        self._cmd_array.append([cmd.x, cmd.y])

        if len(self._cmd_array) % self._save_frequency == 0:

In this case, each time the CompressedImage message published by the topic specified in self._img_topic syncs with Command2D message published by the topic specified in self._cmd_topic, the call back function self._sync_sub_callback() is called with the synced messages passed as parameters. The call back function converts the ROS image to a cv matrix format, and stores the data to the specified path.

Note that we are storing the data to an external SSD as the image files can consume material amount of memory quickly.

We store the path to the image as well, which will be used as features fed into a learning algorithm and the commands, used as the target or label, as an array. The data is saved to disk periodically by calling self._save_data_info() presented below.

def _save_data_info(self):
    """ Call periodically to save as input (path) and label to be used for
        training models.
    data = {
        "images": np.array(self._img_path_array),
        "control_commands": np.array(self._cmd_array)
    with open(os.path.join(self._data_dir, "predictions.pickle"), 'w') as f:
        pickle.dump(data, f)

    rospy.loginfo("Predictions saved to {}...".format(self._data_dir))

Transforming data into consumable form

Once we are satisfied with the amount of data collected, we can turn to loading and formatting the data to transform the raw data into something consumable by a learning model for training.

The PyTorch Dataset API is tremendously handy as PyTorch allows for almost seamless integration of pandas allowing for the reformatting of the data to be a breeze. The Dataset class is shown below. The repo page is found here.

We can simply load the pickle file and convert the dict to a pandas DataFrame object. Note that the Dataset api requires the definition of __getitem__ and __len__. This can be customized for the task at hand. We can easily change the number of input features or target variables used, as well as generate sequences if necessary.

class AMRControllerDataset(Dataset):

    Custom dataset to handle amr controller.
    Input is an image taken from a monocular camera, with controller mapping
    image to steering and throttle commands.

    def __init__(self, pickle_file, root_dir, transform=None):
        self._pickle_file = pickle_file
        self._root_dir = root_dir
        self._transform = transform
        self._frames = self._get_frames()

    def __len__(self):
        return len(self._frames)

    def __getitem__(self, idx):
        path = self._frames['images'].iloc[idx]
        # Get image name
        img_name = path.rsplit('/',1)[-1]
        # Create path to image
        img_path = os.path.join(self._root_dir, img_name)
        # Get actual image    
        img = io.imread(img_path)
        if self._transform is not None:
            img = self._transform(img)

        return {
            'image': img,
            'commands': self._frames[['throttle', 'steer']].iloc[idx].as_matrix()

    def _get_frames(self):
        pickle_path = os.path.join(self._root_dir, self._pickle_file)
        with open(pickle_path, 'rb') as f:
            pdict = pickle.load(f)

        img_df = pd.DataFrame(pdict['images'], columns=['images'])
        controls_df = pd.DataFrame(pdict['control_commands'], columns=['throttle', 'steer'])
        df = pd.concat([img_df, controls_df], axis=1)
        return df

Thats it.

We can just initiate AMRControllerDataset() from our training implementation and the data will be ready to go.

Training a model based on the collected data

Now that we have our raw data converted to a consumable form we can move on to the training step.

The work flow can be summarized as below and found in amr_models directory.

  1. Specify data set, done in data_loader.py. (Walk through above)
  2. Specify data transformations, done in transforms.py (Note: If using a pre-trained model that used imagenet, need to take care to use appropriate transformations when running inference.)
  3. Specify learning architecture, done in model.py.
  4. Layout training, validation process in train.py

To split the training data into a train and validation data set, I found the SubsetRandomSampler()[4] extremely helpful. The training will save a model every time the metric (MSE) is improved on the validation step.

Once we are satisfied, we are finished with the training and we have a model saved that can be loaded and used for inference.


By simply calling roslaunch amr_teleop_bringup.launch we kick off a system that records and stores synced sensor data that can be processed by a training system to train a learning model. In the next update we will walk through how to use the trained model.


  1. http://docs.donkeycar.com/guide/build_hardware/#parts-needed
  2. https://docs.ros.org/api/message_filters/html/python/
  3. http://wiki.ros.org/message_filters/ApproximateTime
  4. http://pytorch.org/docs/master/data.html