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This paper proposes a parallel hardware architecture for image feature detection based on the scale invariant feature transform algorithm and applied to the simultaneous localization and mapping problem. The work also proposes specific hardware optimizations considered fundamental to embed such a robotic control system on-a-chip. The proposed architecture is completely stand-alone; it reads the input data directly from a CMOS image sensor and provides the results via a field-programmable gate array coupled to an embedded processor. The results may either be used directly in an on-chip application or accessed through an Ethernet connection. The system is able to detect features up to 30 frames per second (320times240 pixels) and has accuracy similar to a PC-based implementation. The achieved system performance is at least one order of magnitude better than a PC-based solution, a result achieved by investigating the impact of several hardware-orientated optimizations on performance, area and accuracy.