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I've had some experience using heightmaps and have found that Gazebo is very slow when used with heightmaps and a bot is spawned in the world. I believe this is caused by the physics engine having to compute a complex collision object. When using the same heightmap method I see an RTF of .00025.

Some methods to improve the performance that I used were to simplify the heightmap. Simplifying and reducing the number of objects helped to improve performance to something like .0005 RTF. S

I've seen switching physics engines as a suggestion before, but haven't done that myself.

There was a size limitation of the heightmap when using this method. Simplifying the heightmap helped this as well. Where the heightmap must be 2^n +1 I was only able to go from 1025x1025 to 2049 x 2049.