Preprints are manuscripts made publicly available before they have been submitted for formal peer review and publication. They might contain new research findings or data. Preprints can be a draft or final version of an author's research but must not have been accepted for publication at the time of submission.
Freespace detection is an essential component of visual perception for self-driving cars. The recent efforts made in data-fusion convolutional neural networks (CNNs) have significantly improved semantic driving scene segmentation. Freespace can be hypothesized as a ground plane, on which the points have similar surface normals. Hence, in this paper, we first introduce a novel module, named surface normal estimator (SNE), which can infer surface normal information from dense depth/disparity images with high accuracy and efficiency. Furthermore, we propose a data-fusion CNN architecture, referred to as RoadSeg, which can extract and fuse features from both RGB images and the inferred surface normal information for accurate freespace detection. For research purposes, we publish a large-scale synthetic freespace detection dataset, named Ready-to-Drive (R2D) road dataset, collected under different illumination and weather conditions. The experimental results demonstrate that our proposed SNE module can benefit all the state-of-the-art CNNs for freespace detection, and our SNE-RoadSeg achieves the best overall performance among different datasets.