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Create a ROS sensor plugin for Gazebo

January 7, 2016


There are magnificent tutorials about how to create plugins for Gazebo in the GazeboSim webpage. There are even some tutorials about how to create plugins for Gazebo + ROS, which show that there are several types of plugins (world, model, sensor, system, visual), and indicate how to create a plugin for a world-type plugin. But I recently I needed to create a plugin for a light detector and couldn’t find a concrete example. Here’s a how-to post showing you how I did it.

How to: light sensor plugin in Gazebo

Following the indications provided at the answers forum of Gazebo, I decided to build a very simple light detector sensor based on a camera. Instead of using a raytracing algorithm from lights, the idea is to use a camera to capture an image, then use the image to calculate the illuminance of the image, and then publish that illuminance value through a ROS topic.

Since the plugin is meant to be used with ROS, the whole plugin should be compilable using ROS environment.

Creating a ROS package for the plugin

First we need to create the package in our catkin workspace that will allow us to compile the plugin without a problem.

cd ~/catkin_ws/src
catkin_create-pkg gazebo_light_sensor_plugin gazebo_ros roscpp

Creating the plugin code

For this purpose, since we are using a camera to capture the light, we are going to create a plugin class that inherits from the CameraPlugin. The code that follows has been created taking as guideline the code of the authentic gazebo ROS camera plugin.

Create a file called light_sensor_plugin.h inside the include directory of your package, including the following code:


#include <string>

// library for processing camera data for gazebo / ros conversions
#include <gazebo/plugins/CameraPlugin.hh>

#include <gazebo_plugins/gazebo_ros_camera_utils.h>

namespace gazebo
class GazeboRosLight : public CameraPlugin, GazeboRosCameraUtils
/// brief Constructor
/// param parent The parent entity, must be a Model or a Sensor
public: GazeboRosLight();

/// brief Destructor
public: ~GazeboRosLight();

/// brief Load the plugin
/// param take in SDF root element
public: void Load(sensors::SensorPtr _parent, sdf::ElementPtr _sdf);

/// brief Update the controller
protected: virtual void OnNewFrame(const unsigned char *_image,
unsigned int _width, unsigned int _height,
unsigned int _depth, const std::string &_format);

ros::NodeHandle _nh;
ros::Publisher _sensorPublisher;

double _fov;
double _range;

As you can see, the code includes a node handler to connect to the roscore. It also defines a publisher that will publish messages containing the illuminance value. Two parameters have been defined: fov (field of view) and range. At present only fov is used to indicate the amount of pixels around the center of the image that will be taken into account to calculate the illuminance.

Then create a file named light_sensor_plugin.cpp containing the following code in the src directory of your package:

#include <gazebo/common/Plugin.hh>
#include <ros/ros.h>
#include "/home/rtellez/iri-lab/iri_ws/src/gazebo_light_sensor_plugin/include/light_sensor_plugin.h"

#include "gazebo_plugins/gazebo_ros_camera.h"

#include <string>

#include <gazebo/sensors/Sensor.hh>
#include <gazebo/sensors/CameraSensor.hh>
#include <gazebo/sensors/SensorTypes.hh>

#include <sensor_msgs/Illuminance.h>

namespace gazebo
 // Register this plugin with the simulator

 // Constructor
 _sensorPublisher = _nh.advertise<sensor_msgs::Illuminance>("lightSensor", 1);

 // Destructor

 void GazeboRosLight::Load(sensors::SensorPtr _parent, sdf::ElementPtr _sdf)
 // Make sure the ROS node for Gazebo has already been initialized
 if (!ros::isInitialized())
 ROS_FATAL_STREAM("A ROS node for Gazebo has not been initialized, unable to load plugin. "
 << "Load the Gazebo system plugin '' in the gazebo_ros package)");

 CameraPlugin::Load(_parent, _sdf);
 // copying from CameraPlugin into GazeboRosCameraUtils
 this->parentSensor_ = this->parentSensor;
 this->width_ = this->width;
 this->height_ = this->height;
 this->depth_ = this->depth;
 this->format_ = this->format;
 this->camera_ = this->camera;

 GazeboRosCameraUtils::Load(_parent, _sdf);

 // Update the controller
 void GazeboRosLight::OnNewFrame(const unsigned char *_image,
 unsigned int _width, unsigned int _height, unsigned int _depth,
 const std::string &_format)
 static int seq=0;

 this->sensor_update_time_ = this->parentSensor_->GetLastUpdateTime();

 if (!this->parentSensor->IsActive())
 if ((*this->image_connect_count_) > 0)
 // do this first so there's chance for sensor to run once after activated
 if ((*this->image_connect_count_) > 0)
 common::Time cur_time = this->world_->GetSimTime();
 if (cur_time - this->last_update_time_ >= this->update_period_)
 this->last_update_time_ = cur_time;

 sensor_msgs::Illuminance msg;
 msg.header.stamp = ros::Time::now();
 msg.header.frame_id = "";
 msg.header.seq = seq;

 int startingPix = _width * ( (int)(_height/2) - (int)( _fov/2)) - (int)(_fov/2);

 double illum = 0;
 for (int i=0; i<_fov ; ++i)
 int index = startingPix + i*_width;
 for (int j=0; j<_fov ; ++j)
 illum += _image[index+j];

 msg.illuminance = illum/(_fov*_fov);
 msg.variance = 0.0;



That is the code that calculates, in a very basic form, the illuminance.

Create a CMakeLists.txt

Copy the following code in your CMakeLists.txt

cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 2.8.3)

# Load catkin and all dependencies required for this package
find_package(catkin REQUIRED COMPONENTS

# Depend on system install of Gazebo
find_package(gazebo REQUIRED)

include_directories(${Boost_INCLUDE_DIR} ${catkin_INCLUDE_DIRS} ${GAZEBO_INCLUDE_DIRS})

add_library(${PROJECT_NAME} src/light_sensor_plugin.cpp)
target_link_libraries(${PROJECT_NAME} ${catkin_LIBRARIES} ${GAZEBO_LIBRARIES} CameraPlugin)


Update the package.xml

Now you need to include the following line in your package.xml, between the tags <export></export>

<gazebo_ros plugin_path="${prefix}/lib" gazebo_media_path="${prefix}" />

Now you are ready to compile the plugin. Compilation should generate the library containing the plugin inside your building directory.

Create a world file

Below is an example of a world file that includes the plugin. Save this code in a file named inside the directory worlds of your package. This world file simply loads the camera with its plugin, so it might be a bit ugly, but it will be good enough for your tests. Feel free to add more elements and models in the world file.

<?xml version="1.0" ?>
<sdf version="1.4">
 <world name="default">


 <!-- reference to your plugin -->
 <model name='camera'>
 <pose>0 -1 0.05 0 -0 0</pose>
 <link name='link'>
 <collision name='collision'>
 <size>0.1 0.1 0.1</size>
 <visual name='visual'>
 <size>0.1 0.1 0.1</size>
 <sensor name='camera' type='camera'>
 <camera name='__default__'>
 <plugin name="gazebo_light_sensor_plugin" filename="">

Create a launch file

Now comes the final step: to create a launch that will upload everything for you. Save the following code as main.launch inside the launch directory of your package.

 <!-- We resume the logic in empty_world.launch, changing only the name of the world to be launched -->
 <include file="$(find gazebo_ros)/launch/empty_world.launch">
 <arg name="verbose" value="true"/>
 <arg name="world_name" value="$(find gazebo_light_sensor_plugin)/worlds/"/>
 <!-- more default parameters can be changed here -->

Ready to run!

Now launch the world. Be sure that a roscore is running or your machine, and that the GAZEBO_PLUGIN_PATH environment var includes the path to the new plugin.

Now execute the following command:

roslaunch gazebo_light_sensor_plugin main.launch

You can see what the camera is observing by running the following command:

rosrun image_view image_view image:=/camera/rgb/image_raw


You can also have the value of luminance by watching the published topic:

rostopic echo /gazebo_light_sensor_plugin/lightSensor




Now you have a plugin for your Gazebo simulations that can measure (very roughly) the light detected. You can use it in you local copy of Gazebo or even inside The Construct.

Ricardo Téllez is Co-founder and CTO of The Construct.. read more

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