A survey on the computation of quaternions from rotation matrices

Journal Article (2019)


Journal of Mechanisms and Robotics


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The parameterization of rotations is a central topic in many theoretical and applied fields such as rigid body mechanics, multibody dynamics, robotics, spacecraft attitude dynamics, navigation, 3D image processing, computer graphics, etc. Nowadays, the main alternative to the use of rotation matrices, to represent rotations in R3, is the use of Euler parameters arranged in quaternion form. Whereas the passage from a set of Euler parameters to the corresponding rotation matrix is unique and straightforward, the passage from a rotation matrix to its corresponding Euler parameters has been revealed to be somewhat tricky if numerical aspects are considered. Since the map from quaternions to 3x3 rotation matrices is a 2-to-1 covering map, this map cannot be smoothly inverted. As a consequence, it is erroneously assumed that all inversions should necessarily contain singularities that arise in the form of quotients where the divisor can be arbitrarily small. This misconception is herein clarified.

This paper reviews the most representative methods available in the literature, including a comparative analysis of their computational costs and error performances. The presented analysis leads to the conclusion that Cayley's factorization, a little-known method used to compute the double quaternion representation of rotations in four dimensions from 4x4 rotation matrices, is the most robust method when particularized to three dimensions.



Author keywords

Euler parameters, quaternions, rotation matrices, numerical accuracy

Scientific reference

S. Sarabandi and F. Thomas. A survey on the computation of quaternions from rotation matrices. Journal of Mechanisms and Robotics, 2019, to appear.