My co-worker Oleg Alexandrov has been working on Ames Stereo Pipeline for a while now. He’s just about touched all parts of the code. This is crystal clear when you look at our logs on Github. One of things he ribs me most about in ASP is that he doesn’t like that we advertise ASP as using up-to-date stereo correlation algorithms. “Come ‘on Man! That’s just not true!” he tells me. Depending on whom you talk to, we’re using primo 90’s research[7] or something re-hashed from the 70’s[1]. Either way, it is clear, we haven’t been tracking along with the current research in our field when it comes to integer correlation. This blog post covers the first part of my own personal research to find a new correlator algorithm that would improve ASP in terms of both runtime and quality. In this post, I’ll be reviewing an algorithm called Semi-Global Matching.

Semi-Global Matching or SGM is a method developed by Heiko Hirschmueller from the DLR. He first wrote about this in his 2005 paper[2]. He then elaborated and proposed further improvements in [3][4]. The best paper to learn the method is probably his second paper[3]. In my opinion his first paper gets side tracked in using a Mutual Information (MI) cost metric when the interesting bit is just SGM. The most exciting bit about this work is that it comes from DLR and is an algorithm they have applied to aerial and satellite mapping. I believe this is the method that was used to create the wonderful HRSC DTMs that some how managed to overcome the weird JPEG artifacts in their raw imagery.

## The Algorithm

Heiko might have sped over his SGM algorithm in his first paper because he didn’t view it as being as challenging to implement when compared to the MI cost metric. SGM shares a lot in common with scanline optimization stereo, which has had a lot of prior research but now-a-days is considered a dead end. Let’s review how that worked. Also, the images used for this testing are from the Middlebury Stereo dataset. More information about this data and stereo algorithms applied to them can be found in [8][9][10][11].

Scanline optimization stereo is essentially Viterbi decoding in my mind. We evaluate along an epipolar line. In the case of a rectified image, this is along the horizontal scanline. For each pixel along that scanline we evaluate each possible disparity result. The costs of each pixel along the scanline can then be stacked into a matrix. A scanline was highlighted in the above picture. The cost of each pixel (*x-direction*) versus each possible disparity value (*y-direction*) is shown in the picture below. The solution for the disparity along this scanline is then the path through this matrix/image that has minimum costs (*dark areas*). We also have to include some smoothness constraint otherwise our disparity result could follow the jagged jumps in this map that don’t represent reality.

Finding the minimum path is then an application of Linear Programming. We iterate through the matrix left to right and take a rolling sum. The cost of an element in the rolling sum vector for the current pixel and disparity combination is equal to the cost for the current location plus the lowest summed cost from the set of all possible disparities for the prior pixel location. Heiko applies some additional constraints in that he penalizes the cost when ever the disparity changes. He penalizes higher for multiple disparity value transitions than he does for 1. Penality for an increment of 1 in disparity is P1 and anything greater is P2. This entire paragraph can more elegantly be described in the following equation.

Applying this forward and backward for each scanline we can solve for a disparity map. Here’s an example.

Notice there’s a lot of tearing between the scanlines. The image looks as if we had tracking error on a VCR. We could fix this by using a larger kernel size. For the above, the kernel size was 1 x 1 px. Something more unique would insure matches that are constrained between lines. Another approach would be to insure some smoothness constraint across lines as opposed to just disparity transitions. Heiko’s solution to this issue is what makes SGM what it is. He opted to instead perform scanline optimization at multiple angles and then take the summed cost vector to determine the final disparity result. Note, that even though we evaluate the scanline along an angle, the disparity is still defined as going along the epipolar line (perfectly horizontal in this case). Each line direction produces results like the following:

The sum of their cost vectors and then taking the minimum produces a beautiful result like the following:

## My Implementation and Results

All of the pictures above were created with my implementation of SGM. In my version, I only evaluate 8 line directions. So my results are noisier than what’s seen in Heiko’s original paper. Despite this, the end results are pretty impressive. Here’s line up of ASP result, my SGM result, Heiko’s result, and the ground truth result. ASP performs so badly because it has a large kernel size that can’t handle the sudden jumps in depth. ASP then blurs the disparity discontinuities.

Unfortunately I must mention the bad side of this method. There are several cons the first and weakest of arguments is the required CPU time. My implementation of this method takes about 23 seconds to evaluate this with 8 paths. 16 paths like the paper would have doubled the processing time. ASP chops through this image in seconds. Heiko says he got the processing time down to 1.3 seconds in 2005. So I’m doing something horribly wrong and could improve my implementation. However speed is always an issue, some ideas to address this issue are iSGM[5] and wSGM[6]. These are hierarchical methods of SGM and fancy maps to reduce the length required to integrate paths for cost evaluation.

A bigger issue is that SGM requires an absurd amount of memory. All costs for all pixels and all possible disparity values are evaluated up front in a big tensor that has a size of W * H * D * 1 byte. We also need a copy of this tensor for evaluating paths and another to store summing for all paths. Those are two allocations of memory that are W * H * D * 2 bytes. They need to be a higher data type to avoid integer rollover artifacts. This demo set is 450 x 375 px and I evaluated it across 64 possible disparities. Thus SGM required 51 MB. That doesn’t include the memory cost of just loading the images up and allocating space for the disparity result. Imagine tackling a satellite image where we we have a disparity range of 2000 pixels.

Another pesky complaint against SGM is how to figure out what the values should be for the two penalty arguments. Heiko never mentioned what he used; likely he tuned the values for each stereo pair to get best results. However these penalty values ultimately determine how this algorithm responds to occlusion and angled surfaces. What works for World View 1 in glacier regions (*low frequencies*) might not necessarily apply to World View 1 in the city (*square wave patterns*). In practice, we would want to have tuned parameters for each instrument we work on and for each type of terrain.

The final and most harsh criticism of SGM is that it can only be applied to 1D disparity searches and the range must be defined beforehand. 1D searches work for calibrated stereo rigs such as the imagery used in this post. However it is my opinion that real data always has imperfections and finding the true disparity requires searching in the Y direction still. Examples of this are linescan cameras that have jitter but the spacecraft ephemeris isn’t sampled high enough to capture such as MOC, HiRISE, and LROC. There’s also the case were the camera isn’t perfect such as the World View cameras where there is a subpixel misregistration of all 50 CCDs. They can’t be easily corrected for because we can’t have raw imagery. ASP also doesn’t have a perfect method for epipolar rectification of linescan cameras. We have a linear approximation with our affine method but the problem is nonlinear.

SGM is still an amazing algorithm that is incredibly useful. There are ton of papers out there that find it to be perfect for their applications. Beside the incredible detail it resolves, my other favorite bit about the algorithm is that its runtime is deterministic. It depends squarely on search range and there is no worst-case path versus best-case path that we have to deal with in ASP’s binary search approach. Despite this, SGM seems to be a non-ideal match for ASP. ASP hopes to address the generic correlation problem where we don’t always trust our camera information or our data. I want something that can still handle 2D searching. In my next post I’ll show off another promising algorithm that seems to address that concern along with runtime and memory requirements. Until then, have some music.

Update: Code is now available here.

## Works Cited

[1] Barnea, D. (1972). *A Class of Algorithms for Fast Digital Image Registration.* IEEE Transactions on Computers.

[2] Hirschmuller, H. (2005). Accurate and Efficient Stereo Processing by Semi Global Matching and Mutual Information. *CVPR* .

[3] Hirschmuller, H. (2008). Stereo Processing by Semiglobal Matching and Mutual Information. *Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence* .

[4] Hirschmulller, H., Buder, M., & Ernst, I. (2012). Memory Efficient Semi-Global Matching. *Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences* .

[5] Klette, S. H. (2012). Iterative Semi-Global Matching for Robust Driver Assistance Systems. *ACCV* .

[6] Spangenberg, R., Langner, T., & Rojas, R. (2013). Weighted Semi-Global Matching and Center-Symmetric Census Transform for Robust Driver Assistance. *CAIP* .

[7] Sun, C. (1997). *A Fast Stereo Matching Method.* Digital Image Computing: Techniques and Application.

[8] Scharstein, D., Szeliski, R. (2002). A taxonomy and evaluation of dense two-frame stereo correspondence algorithms. *International Journal of Computer Vision* .

[9] Scharstein, D., Szeliski, R. (2003). High-accuracy stereo depth maps using structured light. *CVPR* .

[10] Scharstein, D., Pal, C. (2007). Learning conditional random fields for stereo. *CVPR* .

[11] Hirschmuller, H., Scharstein, D. (2007). Evaluation of cost functions for stereo matching. *CVPR* .