Parallel physics


The complexity of simulated robots, spatial size of environments, and fidelity of sensor simulation all play a role in determining what can be simulated with the constraint of operating at or near real-time. The Gazebo physics update loop is one of the primary consumers of CPU cycles. With an limitation in the speed of solution algorithms to solve the underlying mathematical problem that represents those physical constraints, parallelization of the physics engine is the direction to go in order to help improve performance, with the goal of running complex robots and environments in real-time.

Parallel Strategies

Two strategies to parallelize physics have been implemented: island thread and position error correction thread. For more details about these two strategies results and analysis, please refer to the parallel physics reports on the Gazebo webpage.

Island Thread

The first strategy attempts to parallelize simulation of non-interacting entities. Simulated entities are interacting if they are connected by an articulated joint (such as a revolute or universal joint) or are connected via contact. Groups of interacting entities are clustered into "islands" that are mathematically decoupled from each other. Thus each island can be simulated in parallel. After each step, the clustering of islands is recalculated.

Position Error Correction Thread

The second strategy attempts to speed up the constraint resolution algorithm within islands for the QuickStep solver. The ODE QuickStep solver is the default solver in Gazebo and solves constraints posed as a Linear Complementarity Problem (LCP). As an iterative, fixed time step solver, it is prone to position errors, such as interpenetration of objects.

In order to correct these errors, an impulse is computed that is applied to the interpenetrating objects to push them apart. This method of position correction adds artificial energy into the system. To correct for this additional energy, two equations are solved. An error correcting LCP is used to correct the object position, while the velocity is updated without interpenetration error correction. These two equations can be solved in parallel, due to the independence between each other, two threads can be used simultaneously to do the computation, which comprises the second parallelization strategy.

Running the code

Currently these parallelization strategies require building gazebo and sdformat from source. The following section provides instructions for doing this with a catkin workspace.

Set up catkin workspace

Currently, the sdformat needs to be build using a specific branch, we have to set up a catkin workspace to build gazebo and sdformat againt system installs of dependencies.

Using catkin requires the python catkin-pkg to be installed:

# Ubuntu
sudo apt-get install python-catkin-pkg
# Others
sudo pip install catkin-pkg

Here we create a ws folder as workspace under HOME directory. Then we clone catkin, gazebo and sdformat into the ws/src folder.

export WS=${HOME}/ws/gazebo_parallel
mkdir -p ${WS}/src
cd ${WS}/src
git clone
hg clone
hg clone

Then we update gazebo and sdformat to the diagnostics related branch:

cd ${WS}/src/gazebo
hg update diagnostics_scpeters
cd ${WS}/src/sdformat
hg update island_threads

Next we download package_gazebo.xml and package_sdformat.xml, copy them to the cloned gazebo and sdformat source folder as package.xml

curl > ${WS}/src/gazebo/package.xml
curl > ${WS}/src/sdformat/package.xml

Gazebo can then be built using the catkin_make_isolated command:

cd ${WS}

If you want to use diagnostic timers to evaluate performance, define the ENABLE_DIAGNOSTICS symbol during compilation. This will output the diagnostic timing data to the ~/.gazebo/diagnostics folder.

cd ${WS}
./src/catkin/bin/catkin_make_isolated -DENABLE_DIAGNOSTICS=1

Run the code

Threading is currently enabled using custom sdformat parameters on the island_threads branch:

  • island_threads: integer number of threads to use for island threading
  • thread_position_correction: flag to turn threading on for ODE quickstep position error correction

These flags have been added to physics profiles in several world files on the diagnostics_scpeters branch of gazebo:

Simulate two pr2 robots without threading:

. ${WS}/devel_isolated/setup.bash
gazebo --verbose -o unthrottled0 \

Simulate two pr2 robots with island threading:

. ${WS}/devel_isolated/setup.bash
gazebo --verbose -o unthrottled2 \

Simulate two pr2 robots with threaded position error correction:

. ${WS}/devel_isolated/setup.bash
gazebo --verbose -o split_unthrottled0 \

Simulate two pr2 robots with both types of threading:

. ${WS}/devel_isolated/setup.bash
gazebo --verbose -o split_unthrottled2 \