Building and Solving Graphs

Irrespective of your application - real-time robotics, batch processing of survey data, or really complex multi-hypothesis modeling - you're going to need to add factors and variables to a graph. This section discusses how to do that in Caesar.

The following sections discuss the steps required to construct a graph and solve it:

  • Initialing the Factor Graph
  • Adding Variables and Factors to the Graph
  • Solving the Graph
  • Informing the Solver About Ready Data

What are Variables and Factors

Factor graphs are bipartite, i.e. variables and factors. In practice we use "nodes" to represent both variables and factors with edges between. In future, we will remove the wording "node" from anything Factor Graph usage/abstraction related (only vars and factors). Nodes and edges will be used as terminology for actually storing the data on some graph storage/process foundation technology.

Even more meta – factors are "variables" that have already been observed and are now stochastically "fixed". Waving hands over the fact that a factors encode both the algebraic model AND the observed measurement values.

Variables in the factor graph have not been observed, but we want to back them out from the observed values and algebra relating them all. If factors are constructed from statistically independent measurements (i.e. no direct correlations between measurements other than the algebra already connecting them), then we can use Probabilistic Chain rule to write inference operation down (unnormalized):

\[P(\Theta | Z) = P(Z | \Theta) P(\Theta)\]

where Theta represents all variables and Z represents all measurements or data, and

\[P(\Theta , Z) = P(Z | \Theta) P(\Theta)\]


\[P(\Theta, Z) = P(\Theta | Z) P(Z).\]

You'll notice the first looks like "Bayes rule" and we take $P(Z)$ as a constant (the uncorrelated assumption).

Initializing a Factor Graph

The first step is to model the data (using the most appropriate factors) among variables of interest. To start model, first create a distributed factor graph object:

using Caesar, RoME, Distributions

# start with an empty factor graph object
fg = initfg()


Variables (a.k.a. poses or states in navigation lingo) are created with the addVariable! fucntion call.

# Add the first pose :x0
addVariable!(fg, :x0, Pose2)
# Add a few more poses
for i in 1:10
  addVariable!(fg, Symbol("x$(i)"), Pose2)

Variables contain a label, a data type (e.g. in 2D RoME.Point2 or RoME.Pose2). Note that variables are solved - i.e. they are the product, what you wish to calculate when the solver runs - so you don't provide any measurements when creating them.


Factors are algebraic relationships between variables based on data cues such as sensor measurements. Examples of factors are absolute (pre-resolved) GPS readings (unary factors/priors) and odometry changes between pose variables. All factors encode a stochastic measurement (measurement + error), such as below, where a IIF.Prior belief is add to x0 (using the addFactor call) as a normal distribution centered around [0,0,0].


# Add at a fixed location Prior to pin :x0 to a starting location (0,0,pi/6.0)
addFactor!(fg, [:x0], IIF.Prior( MvNormal([0; 0; pi/6.0], Matrix(Diagonal([0.1;0.1;0.05].^2)) )))

Factors Between Variables

# Add odometry indicating a zigzag movement
for i in 1:10
  pp = Pose2Pose2(MvNormal([10.0;0; (i % 2 == 0 ? -pi/3 : pi/3)], Matrix(Diagonal([0.1;0.1;0.1].^2))))
  addFactor!(fg, [Symbol("x$(i-1)"); Symbol("x$(i)")], pp )

When to Instantiate Poses (i.e. new Variables in Factor Graph)

Consider a robot traversing some area while exploring, localizing, and wanting to find strong loop-closure features for consistent mapping. The creation of new poses and landmark variables is a trade-off in computational complexity and marginalization errors made during factor graph construction. Common triggers for new poses are:

  • Time-based trigger (eg. new pose a second or 5 minutes if stationary)
  • Distance traveled (eg. new pose every 0.5 meters)
  • Rotation angle (eg. new pose every 15 degrees)

Computation will progress faster if poses and landmarks are very sparse. To extract the benefit of dense reconstructions, one approach is to use the factor graph as sparse index in history about the general progression of the trajectory and use additional processing from dense sensor data for high-fidelity map reconstructions. Either interpolations, or better direct reconstructions from inertial data can be used for dense reconstruction.

For completeness, one could also re-project the most meaningful measurements from sensor measurements between pose epochs as though measured from the pose epoch. This approach essentially marginalizes the local dead reckoning drift errors into the local interpose re-projections, but helps keep the pose count low.

In addition, see fixed-lag discussion for limiting during inference the number of fluid variables manually to a user desired count.

Which Variables and Factors to use

See the next page on available variables and factors