1 Introduction
Humans naturally develop the ability to mentally portray and reason about objects in what we perceive as their neutral, canonical orientation, and this ability is key for correctly recognizing and manipulating objects as well as reasoning about the environment. Indeed, mental rotation abilities have been extensively studied and linked with motor and spatial visualization abilities since the 70s in the experimental psychology literature Shepard and Metzler (1971); Vandenberg and Kuse (1978); Jansen and Kellner (2015).
Robotic and computer vision systems similarly require neutralizing variations w.r.t. rotations when processing 3D data and images in many important applications such as grasping, navigation, surface matching, augmented reality, shape classification and detection, among the others. In these domains, two main approaches have been pursued so to define rotationinvariant methods to process 3D data: rotationinvariant operators and canonical orientation estimation. Pioneering works applying deep learning to point clouds, such as PointNet
Qi et al. (2017a, b)achieved invariance to rotation by means of a transformation network used to predict a canonical orientation to apply direclty to the coordinates of the input point cloud. Despite being trained by sampling the range of all possible rotations at training time through data augmentation, this approach, however, does not generalize to rotations not seen during training. Hence, invariant operators like rotationinvariant convolutions were introduced, allowing to train on a reduced set of rotations (ideally one, the unmodified data) and test on the full spectrum of rotations
Masci et al. (2015); Esteves et al. (2018); You et al. (2018); Zhang et al. (2019b); Rao et al. (2019); Zhang et al. (2019a). Canonical orientation estimation, instead, follows more closely the human path to invariance and exploits the geometry of the surface to estimate an intrinsic 3D reference frame which rotates with the surface.Transforming the input data by the inverse of the 3D orientation of such reference frame brings the surface in an orientationneutral, canonical coordinate system wherein rotation invariant processing and reasoning can happen. While humans have a preference for a canonical orientation matching one of the usual orientations in which they encounter an object in everyday life, in machines this paradigm does not need to favour any actual reference orientation over others: as illustrated in Figure 1, an arbitrary one is fine as long as it can be repeatably estimated from the input data.
Despite mental rotation tasks being solved by a set of unconscious abilities that humans learn through experience, and despite the huge successes achieved by deep neural networks in addressing analogous unconscious tasks in vision and robotics, the problem of estimating a canonical orientation is still solved solely by
handcrafted proposals Salti et al. (2014); Petrelli and Di Stefano (2011); Melzi et al. (2019); Guo et al. (2013); Yang et al. (2017); Gojcic et al. (2019); Aldoma et al. (2012). This may be due to convnets, the standard architectures for vision applications, reliance on the convolution operator in Euclidean domains, which possesses only the property of equivariance to translations of the input signal. However, the essential property of a canonical orientation estimation algorithm is equivariance with respect to 3D rotations because, upon a 3D rotation, the 3D reference frame which establishes the canonical orientation of an object should undergo the same rotation as the object. We also point out that, although, in principle, estimation of a canonical reference frame is suitable to pursue orientation neutralization for whole shapes, in past literature it has been intensively studied mainly to achieve rotationinvariant description of local surface patches.In this work, we explore the feasibility of using deep neural networks to learn to pursue rotationinvariance by estimating the canonical orientation of a 3D surface, be it either a whole shape or a local patch. Purposely, we propose to leverage Spherical CNNs Cohen et al. (2018); Esteves et al. (2018), a recently introduced variant of convnets which possesses the property of equivariance w.r.t. 3D rotations by design, in order to build Compass, a selfsupervised methodology that learns to orient 3D shapes. As the proposed method computes feature maps living in , i.e. feature map coordinates define 3D rotations, and does so by rotationequivariant operators, any salient element in a feature map, e.g. its , may readily be used to bring the input point cloud into a canonical reference frame. However, due to discretization artifacts, Spherical CNNs turn out to be not perfectly rotationequivariant Cohen et al. (2018). Moreover, the input data may be noisy and, in case of 2.5D views sensed from 3D scenes, affected by selfocclusions and missing parts. To overcome these issues, we propose a robust endtoend training pipeline which mimics sensor nuisances by data augmentation and allows the calculation of gradients with respect to feature maps coordinates. The effectiveness and general applicability of Compass is established by achieving stateofthe art results in two challenging applications: robust local reference frame estimation for local surface patches and rotationinvariant global shape classification.
2 Related Work
The definition of a canonical orientation of a point cloud has been studied mainly in the field of local features descriptors Salti et al. (2014); Guo et al. (2013); Johnson and Hebert (1999); Rusu et al. (2009) used to establish correspondences between sets of distinctive points, i.e. keypoints. Indeed, the definition of a robust local reference frame, i.e. , with respect to which the local neighborhood of a keypoint
is encoded, is crucial to create rotationinvariant features. Several works define the axes of the local canonical system as eigenvectors of the 3D covariance matrix between points within a spherical region of radius
centered at . As the signs of the eigenvectors are not repeatable, some works focus on the disambiguation of the axes Mian et al. (2010); Salti et al. (2014); Guo et al. (2013). Alternatively, another family of methods leverages the normal to the surface at , i.e. , to fix the axis, and then exploits geometric attributes of the shape to identify a reference direction on the tangent plane to define the axis Chua and Jarvis (1997); Petrelli and Di Stefano (2012); Melzi et al. (2019). Compass differs sharply from previous methods because it learns the cues necessary to canonically orient a surface without making a priori assumptions on which details of the underlying geometry may be effective to define a repeatable canonical orientation.On the other hand, PointNetsQi et al. (2017a, b)
employ a transformation network to predict an affine rigid motion to apply to the input point clouds in order to correctly classify global shapes under rigid transformations. In
Esteves et al. (2018) Esteves et al. prove the limited generalization of PointNet to unseen rotations and define the Spherical convolutions to learn an invariant embedding for mesh classification. In parallel, Cohen et al. Cohen et al. (2018) use Spherical correlation to map Spherical inputs to features then processed with a series of convolutions on . Similarly, PRIN You et al. (2018) proposes a network based on Spherical correlations to operate on spherically voxelized point clouds. SFCNN Rao et al. (2019) redefines the convolution operator on a discretized sphere approximated by a regular icosahedral lattice. Differently, in Zhang et al. (2019b), Zhang et al. adopt lowlevel rotation invariant geometric features (angles and distances) to design a convolution operator for point cloud processing. Deviating from this line of work on invariant convolutions and operators, we show how rotationinvariant processing can be effectively realized by preliminary transforming the shape to a canonical orientation learned by Compass.3 Proposed Method
In this section, we provide a brief overview on Spherical CNNs to make the paper selfcontained, followed by a detailed description of our method. For more details, we point readers to Cohen et al. (2018); Esteves et al. (2018).
3.1 Background
The base intuition for Spherical CNNs can be lifted from the classical planar correlation used in CNNs, where the value in the output map at location is given by the inner product between the input feature map and the learned filter translated by . We can likewise define the value in an output map, computed by a spherical or correlation, at location as the inner product between the input feature map and the learned filter rotated by . Below we provide formal definitions of the main operations carried out in a Spherical CNN, then we summarize the standard flow to process point clouds with them.
The Unit Sphere: is a twodimensional manifold defined as the set of points with unitary norm, and parametrized by spherical coordinates and .
Spherical Signal: a valued function defined on , , is the number of channels.
3D Rotations: 3D rotations live in a threedimensional manifold, the group, which can be parameterized by ZYZEuler angles as in Cohen et al. (2018). Given a triplet of Euler angles , the corresponding 3D rotation matrix is given by the product of two rotations about the axis, , and one about the axis, , i.e.
. Points represented as 3D unit vectors
can be rotated by using the matrixvector product .Spherical correlation: recalling the inner product definition from Cohen et al. (2018), the correlation between a valued spherical signal and a filter , can be formulated as:
(1) 
where the operator rotates the function by , by composing its input with , i.e. , where . Although both the input and the filter live in , the spherical correlation produces an output signal defined on Cohen et al. (2018).
SO(3) correlation: similarly, by extending to operate on signals, i.e. where and denotes the composition of rotations, we can define the correlation between a signal and a filter on the rotation group, :
(2) 
Spherical and SO(3) correlation equivariance w.r.t. rotations: It can be shown that both correlations in (1) and (2) are equivariant with respect to rotations of the input signal. The feature map obtained by correlation of a filter with an input signal rotated by , can be equivalently computed by rotating with the same rotation the feature map obtained by correlation of with the original input signal , i.e.:
(3) 
Signal Flow: In Spherical CNNs, the input signal, e.g. an image or, as it is the case of our settings, a point cloud, is first transformed into a valued spherical signal. Then, the first network layer ( layer) computes feature maps by spherical correlations (). As the computed feature maps are SO(3) signals, the successive layers (SO(3) layers) compute deeper feature maps by SO(3) correlations ().
3.2 Methodology
Our problem can be formalized as follows. Given the set of 3D point clouds, , and two point clouds , with and , we indicate by the application of the 3D rotation matrix to all the points of . We then aim at learning a function, , such that:
(4)  
(5) 
We define the rotated cloud, , in (4) to be the canonical, rotationneutral version of , i.e. the function outputs the inverse of the 3D rotation matrix that brings the points in into their canonical reference frame. (5) states the equivariance property of : if the input cloud is rotated, the output of the function should undergo the same rotation. As a result, two rotated versions of the same cloud are brought into the same canonical reference frame by (4).
Due to the equivariance property of Spherical CNNs layers, upon a rotation of the input signal each feature map does rotate accordingly. Moreover, the domain of the feature maps in Spherical CNNs is SO(3), i.e. each value of the feature map is naturally associated with a rotation. This means that one could just track any distinctive feature map value to establish a canonical orientation satisfying (4) and (5). Indeed, defining as the composition of and correlation layers in our network, if the last layer produces the feature map when processing the spherical signal for the cloud , the same network will compute the feature map when processing the rotated cloud , with spherical signal . Hence, if for instance we select the maximum value of the feature map as the distinctive value to track, and the location of the maximum is at in , the maximum will be found at in the rotated feature map. Then, by letting , we get , which satisfies (4) and (5). Therefore, we realize function by a Spherical CNN and we utilize the operator on the feature map computed by the last correlation layer to define its output. In principle, equivariance alone would guarantee to satisfy (4) and (5). Unfortunately, while for continuous functions the network is exactly equivariant, this does not hold for its discretized version, mainly due to feature map rotation, which is exact only for bandlimited functions Cohen et al. (2018). Moreover, equivariance to rotations does not hold for altered versions of the same cloud, e.g. when a part of it is occluded due to viewpoint changes. We tackle these issues using a selfsupervised loss computed on the extracted rotations when aligning a pair of point clouds to guide the learning, and an adhoc augmentation to increase the robustness to occlusions. Through the use of a softargmax layer, we can backpropagate the loss gradient from the estimated rotations to the positions of the maxima we extract from the feature maps and to the filters, which overall lets the network learn a robust function.
From point clouds to spherical signals: Spherical CNNs require spherical signals as input. A known approach to compute them for point cloud data consists in transforming point coordinates from the input Euclidean reference system into a spherical one and then constructing a quantization grid within this new coordinate system You et al. (2018); Spezialetti et al. (2019). The th cell of the grid is indexed by three spherical coordinates where and represent the azimuth and inclination angles of its center and is the radial distance from the center. Then, the cells along the radial dimension with constant azimuth and inclination are seen as channels of a valued signal at location onto the unit sphere . The resulting valued spherical signal measures the density of the points within each cell at distance .
Training pipeline: An illustration of the Compass training pipeline is shown in Figure 2. During training, our objective is to strengthen the equivariance property of the Spherical CNN, such that the locations selected on the feature maps by the function vary consistently between rotated versions of the same point cloud. To this end, we train our network with two streams in a Siamese fashion Chopra et al. (2005). In particular, given , , with and a known random rotation matrix, the first branch of the network computes the aligning rotation matrix for , , while the second branch the aligning rotation matrix for , . Should the feature maps on which the two maxima are extracted be perfectly equivariant, it would follow that . For that reason, the degree of misalignment of the maxima locations can be assessed by comparing the actual rotation matrix predicted by the second branch, , to the ideal rotation matrix that should be predicted, . We can thus cast our learning objective as the minimization of a loss measuring the distance between these two rotations. A natural geodesic metric on the manifold is given by the angular distance between two rotations Hartley et al. (2013). Indeed, any element in can be parametrized as a rotation angle around an axis. The angular distance between two rotations parametrized as rotation matrices and is defined as the angle that parametrizes the rotation and corresponds to the length along the shortest path from to on the manifold Hartley et al. (2013); Huynh (2009); Mahendran et al. (2017); Zhou et al. (2019). Thus, our loss is given by the angular distance between and :
(6) 
As our network has to predict a single canonicalizing rotation, we apply the loss once, i.e. only to the output of the last layer of the network.
Softargmax: The result of the operation on a discrete feature map returns the location along the dimensions corresponding to the ZYZ Euler angles, where the maximum correlation value occurs. To optimize the loss in (6), the gradients w.r.t. the locations of the feature map where the maxima are detected have to be computed. To render the operation differentiable we add a softargmax operator Honari et al. (2018); Chapelle and Wu (2010) following the last layer of the network. Let us denote as the last feature map computed by the network for a given input point cloud . A straightforward implementation of a softargmax layer to get the coordinates of the maximum in is given by
(7) 
where softmax is a 3D spatial softmax. The parameter
controls the temperature of the resulting probability map and
iterate over the coordinates. A softargmax operator computes the location as a weighted sum of all the coordinates where the weights are given by a softmax of a map . Experimentally, this proved not effective. As a more robust solution, we scale the output of the softmax according to the distance of each bin from the feature map . To let the bins near the contribute more in the final result, we smooth the distances by a Parzen function Parzen (1962) yielding a maximum value in the bin corresponding to the and decreasing monotonically to .Learning to handle occlusions: In realworld settings, rotation of an object or scene (i.e. a viewpoint change) naturally produces occlusions to the viewer. Recalling that the second branch of the network operates on , a randomly rotated version of , it is possible to improve
robustness of the network to realworld occlusions and missing parts by augmenting . A simple way to handle this problem is to randomly select a point from and delete some of its surrounding points. In our implementation, this augmentation happens with an assigned probability. is divided in concentric spherical shells, with the probability for the random point to be selected in a shell increasing with its distance from the center of . Additionally, the number of removed points around the selected point is a bounded random percentage of the total points in the cloud. An example can be seen in Figure 3.
Network Architecture: The network architecture comprises 1 layer followed by 3 layers, with bandwidth and the respective number of output channels are set to 40, 20, 10, 1. The input spherical signal is computed with channels.
4 Applications of Compass
We evaluate Compass on two challenging tasks. The first one is the estimation of a canonical orientation of local surface patches, a key step in creating rotationinvariant local 3D descriptors Salti et al. (2014); Gojcic et al. (2019); Yang et al. (2017). In the second task, the canonical orientation provided by Compass is instead used to perform highly effective rotationinvariant shape classification by leveraging a simple PointNet classifier. The source code for training and testing Compass is available at https://github.com/CVLABUnibo/compass.
4.1 Canonical orientation of local surface patches
Problem formulation: On local surface patches, we evaluate Compass through the repeatability Petrelli and Di Stefano (2011); Melzi et al. (2019) of the local reference frame (LRF) it estimates at corresponding keypoints in different views of the same scene. All the datasets provide several D scans, i.e. fragments, representing the same model, i.e. an object or a scene depending on the dataset, acquired from different viewpoints. All fragments belonging to a test model can be grouped into pairs, where each pair (, and , has an area of overlap. A set of correspondences, , can be computed for each pair by applying the known rigid groundtruth transformation, , which aligns to into a common reference frame. is obtained by uniformly sampling points in the overlapping area between and . Finally, the percentage of repeatable LRFs, , for , can be calculated as follows:
(8) 
where is an indicator function, denotes the dot product between two vectors, and is a threshold on the angle between the corresponding axes, in our experiments. Rep measures the percentage of reference frames which are aligned, i.e. differ only by a small angle along all axes, between the two views. The final value of Rep for a given model is computed by averaging on all the pairs.
Testtime adaptation
: Due to the selfsupervised nature of Compass, it is possible to use the test set to train the network without incurring in data snooping, since there is no external groundtruth information involved. This testtime training can be carried out very quickly, right before the test, to adapt the network to unseen data and increase its performance, especially in transfer learning scenarios. This is common practice with selfsupervised approaches
Luo et al. (2020).Datasets: We conduct experiments on three heterogeneous publicly available datasets: 3DMatch Zeng et al. (2017), ETH Pomerleau et al. (2012); Gojcic et al. (2019), and Stanford Views Curless and Levoy (1996). 3DMatch is the reference benchmark to assess learned local 3D descriptors performance in registration applications Zeng et al. (2017); Deng et al. (2018); Spezialetti et al. (2019); Choy et al. (2019); Gojcic et al. (2019). It is a large ensemble of existing indoor datasets. Each fragment is created fusing 50 consecutive depth frames of an RGBD sensor. It contains 62 scenes, split into 54 for training and 8 for testing. ETH is a collection of outdoor landscapes acquired in different seasons with a laser scanner sensor. Finally, Stanford Views contains real scans of 4 objects, from the Stanford 3D Scanning Repository Curless and Levoy (1996), acquired with a laser scanner.
Experimental setup: We train Compass on 3DMatch following the standard procedure of the benchmark, with 48 scenes for training and 6 for validation. From each point cloud, we uniformly pick a keypoint every cm, the points within cm are used as local surface patch and fed to the network. Once trained, the network is tested on the test split of 3DMatch. The network learned on 3DMatch is tested also on ETH and Stanford Views, using different radii to account for the different sizes of the models in these datasets: respectively cm and
cm. We also apply testtime adaptation on ETH and Stanford Views: the test set is used for a quick 2epoch training with a 20% validation split, right before being used to assess the performance of the network. We use Adam
Kingma and Ba (2014) as optimizer, with 0.001 as the learning rate when training on 3DMatch and for testtime adaptation on Stanford Views, and 0.0005 for adaptation on ETH. We compare our method with recent and established LRFs proposals: GFramesMelzi et al. (2019), TOLDIYang et al. (2017), a variant of TOLDI recently proposed in Gojcic et al. (2019) that we refer to here as 3DSN, FLARE Petrelli and Di Stefano (2012), and SHOT Salti et al. (2014). For all methods we use the publicly available implementations. However, the implementation provided for GFrames could not process the large point clouds of 3DMatch and ETH due to memory limits, and we can show results for GFrames only on Stanford Views.LRF Repeatability (Rep )  
Dataset  SHOT Tombari et al. (2010)  FLARE Petrelli and Di Stefano (2012)  TOLDI Yang et al. (2017)  3DSN Gojcic et al. (2019)  GFrames Melzi et al. (2019)  Compass 


3DMatch  0.212  0.360  0.215  0.220  n.a  0.375  n.a.  
ETH  0.273  0.264  0.185  0.202  n.a  0.308  0.317  
Stanford Views  0.132  0.241  0.197  0.173  0.256  0.361  0.388 
Results: The first column of Table 1 reports Rep on the 3DMatch test set. Compass outperforms the most competitive baseline FLARE, with larger gains over the other baselines. Results reported in the second column for ETH and the third column for Stanford Views confirm the advantage of a datadriven model like Compass over handcrafted proposals: while the relative rank of the baselines changes according to which of the assumptions behind their design fits better the traits of the dataset under test, with SHOT taking the lead on ETH and the recently introduced GFrames on Stanford Views, Compass consistently outperforms them. Remarkably, this already happens when using pure transfer learning for Compass, i.e. the network trained on 3DMatch: in spite of the large differences in acquisition modalities and shapes of the models between training and test time, Compass has learned a robust and general notion of canonical orientation for a local patch. This is also confirmed by the slight improvement achieved with testtime augmentation, which however sets the new state of the art on these datasets. Finally, we point out that Compass extracts the canonical orientation for a patch in 17.85ms.
4.2 Rotationinvariant Shape Classification
Problem formulation: Object classification is a central task in computer vision applications, and the main nuisance that methods processing 3D point clouds have to withstand is rotation. To show the general applicability of our proposal and further assess its performance, we wrap Compass in a shape classification pipeline. Hence, in this experiment, Compass is used to orient full shapes rather than local patches. To stress the importance of correct rotation neutralization, as shape classifier we rely on a simple PointNet Qi et al. (2017a), and Compass is employed at train and test time to canonically orient shapes before sending them through the network.
Datasets: We test our model on the ModelNet40 Zhirong Wu et al. (2015) shape classification benchmark. This dataset has 12,311 CAD models from 40 manmade object categories, split into 9,843 for training and 2,468 for testing. In our trials, we actually use the point clouds sampled from the original CAD models provided by the authors of PointNet. We also performed a qualitative evaluation of the transfer learning performance of Compass by orienting clouds from the ShapeNet Chang et al. (2015) dataset.
Experimental setup: We train Compass on ModelNet40 using 8,192 samples for training and 1,648 for validation. Once Compass is trained, we train PointNet following the settings in Qi et al. (2017a), disabling tnets, and rotating the input point clouds to reach the canonical orientation learned by Compass. We followed the protocol described in You et al. (2018) to assess rotationinvariance of the selected methods: we do not augment the dataset with rotated versions of the input cloud when training PointNet; we then test it with the original test clouds, i.e. in the canonical orientation provided by the dataset, and by arbitrary rotating them. We use Adam Kingma and Ba (2014) as optimizer, with 0.001 as the learning rate.
Classification Accuracy (Acc. %)  










NR  88.45  89.82  92.60  81.73  92.91  94.44  80.13  80.51  
AR  12.47  21.35  10.53  55.62  17.82  9.64  70.35  72.20 
Results: Results are reported in Table 2. Results for all the baselines come from You et al. (2018)
. PointNet fails when trained without augmenting the training data with random rotations and tested with shapes under arbitrary rotations. Similarly, in these conditions most of the stateoftheart methods cannot generalize to unseen rotations. If, however, we first neutralize the orientation by Compass and then we run PointNet, it gains almost 60 points and achieves 72.20 accuracy, outperforming the stateoftheart on the arbitrarily rotated test set. This shows the feasibility and the effectiveness of pursuing rotationinvariant processing by canonical orientation estimation. It is also worth observing how, in the simplified scenario where the input data is always under the same orientation (NR), a plain PointNet performs better than Compass+PointNet. Indeed, as the TNet is trained endtoend with PointNet, it can learn that the best orientation in the simplified scenario is the identity matrix. Conversely, Compass performs am unneeded canonicalization step that may only hinder performance due to its errors.
In Figure 6, we present some models from ModelNet40, randomly rotated and then oriented by Compass. The models estimate a very consistent canonical orientation for each object class, despite the large shape variations within the classes.


Finally, to assess the generalization abilities of Compass for full shapes as well, we performed qualitative transfer learning tests on the ShapeNet dataset, reported in Figure 6. Even if there are different geometries, the model trained on ModelNet40 is able to generalize to an unseen dataset and recovers a similar canonical orientation for the same object.
5 Conclusions
We have presented Compass, a novel selfsupervised framework to canonically orient 3D shapes that leverages the equivariance property of Spherical CNNs. Avoiding explicit supervision, we let the network learn to predict the bestsuited orientation for the underlying surface geometries. Our approach robustly handles occlusions thanks to an effective data augmentation. Experimental results demonstrate the benefits of our approach for the tasks of definition of a canonical orientation for local surface patches and rotationinvariant shape classification. Compass demonstrates the effectiveness of learning a canonical orientation in order to pursue rotationinvariant shape processing, and we hope it will raise the interest and stimulate further studies about this approach.
While in this work we evaluated invariance to global rotation according to the protocol used in You et al. (2018) to perform a fair comparison with the stateoftheart method You et al. (2018), it would also be interesting to investigate on the behavior of Compass and the competitors when trained on the full spectrum of SO(3) rotations as done in Esteves et al. (2018). This is left as future work.
6 Broader Impact
In this work we presented a general framework to canonically orient 3D shapes based on deeplearning. The proposed methodology can be especially valuable for the broad spectrum of vision applications that entail reasoning about surfaces. We live in a threedimensional world: cognitive understanding of 3D structures is pivotal for acting and planning.
Acknowledgments
We would like to thank Injenia srl and UTFPR for partly supporting this research work.
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