Listen to this article
Open Robotics released its latest Ignition Gazebo simulation software. The new release, called Edifice, includes a variety of new capabilities such as new rendering features, new sensors, new controllers and new drive plugins. In the dictionary, edifice is defined as: “a building, especially a large, imposing one.” Once you look at all of the features included in this release, you’ll agree just how imposing (and significant) the new release is.
Why simulation is important to robot designers
Gazebo is emerging as one of the best open source simulation solution tools available. It’s becoming competitive with the proprietary simulation tools offered by many robotics vendors.
Why is simulation important? Engineering has evolved to the point that we now expect to have a digital twin of every new project or design. Robots are expensive to design and prototype. Simulation enables you to quickly model a new robot design and place it in a world where you can program its actions and observe the results. This helps robotics engineers to iterate quickly and optimize the best design.
Edifice: the result of three decades of innovation
The first robotics simulation product came to market nearly 25 years ago with the release of the SILMA Production Pilot (later acquired by Adept Technology). Production Pilot evolved to became Adept Digital Workcell, proving that simulation was an important and viable tool for robotics and manufacturing engineers to test and validate robotic operations.
Open Robotics has taken this idea and generalized it, for any type of robot, including autonomous mobile robots and mobile manipulators. University students and researchers around the world leverage Gazebo everyday to learn how to design and program robots.
Highlights of Edifice
Start by trying out the demo world. Here, you’ll be able to quickly experience the new capabilities, including the new drive functions. There is also a new set of utilities with various tools to help make working with Gazebo much easier.
The release includes several new rendering features along with new sensors to extend your virtual robot’s capabilities:
- Custom engines: Full interface for using custom rendering engines 1.
- Sky: Add a sky to your worlds using SDFormat’s <sky> tag.
- Lightmap: Support lightmap textures for efficient prebaked global illumination.
- Light intensity: Lights now have an new intensity parameter that can be modified at runtime.
- Render order: It’s now possible to set the preferred render order 2 for overlapping polygons to resolve z-fighting.
- Thermal camera: A thermal camera sensor that supports objects with uniform or variable surface temperatures.
- Particle effects: Full support for particle emitters, which affect sensors like depth cameras and LiDARs in a realistic way.
- Laser retroreflection: Objects detected by LiDAR can have custom retroreflection.
- Logical audio sensor: New sensor that acts as a microphone to check if audio was detected coming from audio sources in the world.
- Optical tactile sensor: Sensor that measures contact normals using a depth camera and a contact sensor.
The GUI was extended with several new new GUI features and widgets. The new physics parameters enable more real time control. Here’s a list of some of the other key features in this release:
- Lights: Insert, configure and visualize lights through the graphical interface or using Ignition Transport.
- Tape measure: Measure distances in the 3D scene by clicking on them.
- Joint controller: A joint position controller widget, try it out with the NAO robot on this world.
- Collision visualization: View collision shapes on the graphical interface in order to better introspect running simulations.
- Screenshot: Take screenshots of running simulations and save them to disk with the click of a button.
- Physics parameters: Configure real time factor and step size from the GUI.
The release enables the design of new robot kinematics, with a focus on autonomous mobile robots. The applications for autonomous mobile robots are growing across a variety of market segments. There are two new drive configurations for mobile robots with this release:
- Ackermann drive: There’s now an Ackermann steering plugin for autonomous vehicle controls.
- Mecanum drive: There’s also a Mecanum drive plugin for setting up omnidirectional mobile robot motions.
With Edifice, you can now program your robot with ROS Noetic and ROS Foxy. This release will be the official Ignition version for the upcoming ROS Galactic. There are a bunch of other features that aren’t list in this article. However, one important feature is that migration from Gazebo classic is now easier, and there are APIs and tutorials that will aid your migration process from Gazebo classic to Ignition Gazebo.
Gazebo is currently supported on the following platforms:
- Ubuntu Bionic (18.04) and Focal (20.04)
- MacOS Catalina (headless mode only)
- Windows (support for some libraries)
All of Edifice’s new features
The Gazebo sim team demonstrated the features of Edifice in its March 2021 meeting. You can see it in operation in this video (52 minutes):
Gazebo simulation pushes the envelope of what’s possible with this latest release, called Edifice. The new release delivers dozens of exciting new features that improve both the capabilities and the usability of the software environment. Tools like Gazebo simulation are helping to educate the next generation of roboticists, while providing an affordable and highly functional engineering resource for working robotics engineers.