SkinSim /

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SkinSim is a multi-modal skin simulation environment based on the Gazebo simulator. It provides functionality for building robot models with robotic skin attached and near real-time realistic skin simulation.


SkinSim 0.2 is being developed in Ubuntu 14.04 (Trusty) using Gazebo 5. To install the developer tools:

sudo sh -c 'echo "deb `lsb_release -cs` main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/gazebo-latest.list'
wget -O - | sudo apt-key add -
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install libgazebo5-dev

The following dependencies are needed:

sudo apt-get install clang  
sudo apt-get install protobuf-compiler

It is recommended to install ROS alonside with Gazebo. Version 5 is supported by ROS Jade and gazebo_ros_pkgs provides several wrappers:

Currently, ros_control has not been released for ROS Jade.


1) Assuming that ROS has been installed, first setup a catkin workspace:

source /opt/ros/jade/setup.bash
mkdir ~/skin_ws/src -p
cd ~/skin_ws/src
cd ~/skin_ws

Edit your bashrc to source the workspace in every new shell or simply execute

echo "source ~/skin_ws/devel/setup.bash" >> ~/.bashrc
echo "source /usr/share/gazebo/" >> ~/.bashrc

2) Download the repositry (or fork) to your workspace, e.g.

cd ~/skin_ws/src
git clone https://<user-name>

3) Add the repository path to the SKINSIM_PATH environment variable

echo "export SKINSIM_PATH=~/skin_ws/src/skinsim" >> ~/.bashrc

4) Export model and plugin folders to the Gazebo environment variables

echo "export GAZEBO_MODEL_PATH=$GAZEBO_MODEL_PATH:$SKINSIM_PATH/model/models" >> ~/.bashrc

5) Open a new terminal or source the bashrc file

source ~/.bashrc

6) Build ROS dependencies

cd ~/skin_ws

7) Build SkinSim

cd ~/skin_ws/src/skinsim
mkdir build
cd build
cmake ..

8) Add the build folder to the path environment variable

echo "export PATH=$SKINSIM_PATH/build:$PATH" >> ~/.bashrc

and source the bashrc file again. Here is a slightly modified version of what the .bashrc file should look like after the above steps:

function skin_ws {
    echo "*** skin_ws ***"
    source /opt/ros/jade/setup.bash
    source ~/skin_ws/devel/setup.bash

    source /usr/share/gazebo/

    export SKINSIM_PATH=~/skin_ws/src/skinsim-dev
    export PATH=$SKINSIM_PATH/build:$PATH
    alias skin='cd $SKINSIM_PATH/build'


If another version of Gazebo is already installed, then the following errors might occur:

  • unable to install libgazebo5-dev due to "unmet dependencies"
  • catkin_make fails because gazebo_ros cannot be found
  • make fails because of missing member in "gazebo::physics::Joint"

For example, the PR2 simulator is still using Gazebo 2. To check the version, execute the following in a terminal

gazebo --version

If for example version 2 is installed, remove it by executing

sudo apt-get remove gazebo2

and then try installing libgazebo5-dev again.

Eclipse IDE (optional)

Download and extract it into your home folder. Open Eclipse from terminal, e.g.


Do this once to the generate the Eclipse project files:

cd ~/skin_ws
catkin_make --force-cmake \
  -G"Eclipse CDT4 - Unix Makefiles" \

Go to [Import]->[General]->[Existing Projects Into Workspace] and select the ~/skin_ws folder as your root directory. Make sure there is a checkmark next to the project and press [Finish].
Note: If Eclipse has trouble recognizing syntax, try going to

[Project]->[Properties]->[C/C++ General]->[Preprocessor Include Paths...]->[Providers]

and then select [CDT GCC Build Output Parser] and [CDT GCC Built-in Compiler Settings[shared]]. Finally, rebuild the index, i.e. right click on the Project-Debug@build folder and go to [Index]->[Rebuild].

If the indexer still has trouble locating some header files, try adding the include paths manually. For example, you could add "/usr/include/gazebo-5.4/" by going to [Project]->[Properties]->[C/C++ include paths and symbols] and clicking on "Add External Include Path..."


For detailed usage, see the demo descriptions below.

  • skin_model_generator
    • generates Gazebo models based on the configurtions inside generator/config/model_params.yaml
  • generate_experiment_specification
    • generates files used by experimenter (deprecated)
  • auto_experimenter
    • generates files used by experimenter
  • auto_experimenter
    • runs the experimenter

Demo 1 - Loading a Skin Array model

First generate the skin array model:

cd ~/skin_ws/src/skinsim/build

Note that it is using the default settings from generator/config/model_param.yaml. Startup Gazebo with the ROS plugins by running

gazebo -s `catkin_find --first-only` -s `catkin_find --first-only` --verbose --pause


roslaunch gazebo_ros empty_world.launch

Before unpausing the simulation, click on Physics under the World tab. Set the max step size to 0.001 or lower and increase the solver iterations to at least 500. This will prevent the simulation from "blowing up".

Insert the skin_array_test model under the Insert tab. Testing can be done by inserting the simple_sphere or simple_cylinder, scaling them appropriately, and dropping them on the skin array.

To apply virtual forces using ROS:

rosservice call /gazebo/apply_body_wrench "body_name: 'skin_array_test::patch_0_spring_7'
reference_frame: 'world'
reference_point: {x: 0.0, y: 0.0, z: 0.0}
  force: {x: 0.0, y: 0.0, z: -0.05}
  torque: {x: 0.0, y: 0.0, z: 0.0}
start_time: {secs: 0, nsecs: 0}
duration: {secs: 1, nsecs: 0}" 

RVIZ can be used for visualization:

roslaunch skinsim_ros rviz.launch

Note: If the data is not published correctly, then try listening to the Gazebo contact topic. In Gazebo, press ctrl+T and select the /gazebo/default/physics/contacts topic. Or from Terminal,

gz topic -e /gazebo/default/physics/contacts

This is a bug that needs to be fixed in the skin plugin. Gazebo does not recognize when contact data is being requested via the Contact Manger and will not publish any unless there is a subscription to the contact topic.

Demo 2 - Plunger experiment

The skin_model_generator also creates a world file with a plunger. To open the world, simply add its path to the Gazebo command:

gazebo -s `catkin_find --first-only` -s `catkin_find --first-only` --verbose --pause "$SKINSIM_PATH"/model/worlds/

In contrast to Demo 1, there is no need to change any physics engine parameters since these are loaded directly from the world file.

To move the plunger, unpause the simulation and send a control service request. For example:

rosservice call /skinsim/set_plunger_controller "type: {selected: 4}
fb: {selected: 2}
f_des: 1.0
x_des: 0.0
v_des: -0.001
Kp: 2.0
Ki: 20.0
Kd: 0.0
Kv: 0.0
Ts: 0.001
Nf: 100.0
K_cali: 1.0"

The controller and feedback types are defined in


Again, the response can be viewed in RVIZ:

roslaunch skinsim_ros rviz.launch

Demo 3 - Automated testing (TODO: update, see experimenter README)

The SkinSim experimenter enables automatic configuring and testing of several skin array models. Different model and controller specifications can be generated by modifying and compiling experimenter/src/auto_generator.cpp. In future, the generator will use a configuration file to test parameters over different ranges:

- paramter_1: [min, step, max]

To generate the Gazebo models and experiment files:

cd ~/skin_ws/src/skinsim/build
./auto_generator [experiment_name]

where the experiment name is optional. This creates an experiment folder in data/ containing the model and controller configuration files. To run the experimenter:

./auto_experimenter [experiment_name]

which will load the configuration files from the data/experiment_name/ folder. The topic name specified in the model file will be saved to the same folder. While the experimenter runs, ROS topics can viewed from terminal and RVIZ (however, this will slow down the simulation).

Data collection with ROS

To view or save the joint data published from the skin array and plunger plugins:

rostopic list
rostopic echo /skinsim/joint_data
rostopic echo /skinsim/joint_data -p > joint_data.csv

To save the joint layout of the skin array execute the following in order:

rostopic echo /skinsim/layout -n 1 -p > layout_data.csv
rosservice call /skinsim/publish_layout "selected: 0"

The tactile layout can be requested with

rosservice call /skinsim/publish_layout "selected: 1"

All the CSV files can easily be imported into MATLAB using the rtpload.m script.


Semantic versioning 2.0.0 is used in SkinSim. See

  • Current version : 0.1.0
  • In development : 0.2.0

Release Schedule and Roadmap (OUTDATED)

A new version of SkinSim will be released 1 month after every major Gazebo release.

  • 2014-09-30 - SkinSim 0.1.0 : Gazebo 4.0 : ROS I
  • 2016-09-01 - SkinSim 0.2.0 : Gazebo 5.0 : ROS J
    • Classes for different skin models
    • Classes for different sensor models - noise models etc.
    • Classes for different sensor data encoding types
    • Automated testing framework
    • Refactoring/Review
  • 2016-12-01 - SkinSim 0.3.0 : Gazebo 5.0 : ROS J
    • Automatic skin placement on 3D surfaces
    • Standard tactile message types
  • 2016-12-01 - SkinSim 1.0.0 : Gazebo 6.0 : ROS J
    • Robot tailor GUI
  • 2016-12-01 - SkinSim 2.0.0 : Gazebo 7.0 : ROS K

Coding Style

SkinSim tries to adhere to the Google style guide:

Build Status

Build Status