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Typically, there are 3 methods to let Gazebo software load a model.

  1. Export GAZEBO_MODEL_PATH properly. (If Gazebo doesn't start at all, then setup Gazebo and environment variables and then export GAZEBO_MODEL_PATH)

  2. Move the models to "gazebo/models" folder directly and include the URI in launch file.

  3. In case this is being used with ROS (which is the typical case), make sure that the models and the code is within the workspace. (I was struggling with this and I was attempting multi-robot simulation. I realised that the environment variables are sourced in the first instance and sourcing them again from second workspace or any other folder can be difficult. Reference : )

[Note: I am posting this to help people; I myself struggled to get a working solution (for about 10 hours) and I haven't found any similar information as in this answer]