The software in the Loop Rover Control

This tutorial explains the steps required to drive a simulated rover in the Gazebo simulator. We are going to learn an essential way of controlling the rover by publishing the desired setpoints to a specific topic. There is a mode in PX4 autopilot, which is called OFFBOARD mode. This mode allows the autopilot to accept specific external commands such as position, velocity, or attitude setpoints.

In general, a MAVROS node provides setpoint plugins which will listen to user input on specific setpoint topics. Once the user publishes to those specific setpoint topics and if the mode set to OFFBOARD, the MAVROS node will transfer those setpoints to the autopilot to execute.

In this tutorial, we will send position setpoints to the autopilot via a setpoint topic that is available in MAVROS. Once set points are received on that topic, the MAVROS node will send it to the autopilot. The setpoint topic that we will use in this tutorial is mavros/setpoint_position/local. Next, we will create our custom simple ROS package in which we create a simple ROS node that will publish setpoints one after one to follow the square. Finally, MAVROS will take the position setpoints and send them to the autopilot to execute.

Hardware Requirements

  • Desktop Linux Machine with a minimum of 8GB RAM, 16GB recommended, Ubuntu 16.04 installed

Software Requirements

  • Ubuntu 16.04
  • ROS Kinetic (full desktop installation)
  • Gazebo 7: will be automatically installed with ROS
  • PX4 firmware installation on Linux: Autopilot software which includes the software-in-the-loop firmware
  • MAVROS package: Autopilot ROS interface


In this tutorial, it is assumed that the reader is familiar with basic Linux commands, ROS Basics.

Setup Steps

  • Install QGroundControl from here. Use the AppImage option.

SITL with Gazebo

There are launch files available to run the simulation wrapped in the ROS.

To run SITL wrapped in ROS with Rover configuration, the ROS environment needs to be updated:

cd ~/src/Firmware
DONT_RUN=1 make px4_sitl gazebo_rover
cd ~/catkin_ws
catkin build

Now close the terminal.

Launching Gazebo with ROS Wrappers

Now, you are ready to launch Gazebo + PX4 SITL app + ROS + MAVROS. To do that, execute the following command.

roslaunch px4 mavros_posix_sitl.launch

If everything launched correctly, you should see a drone in the simulated environment. To change vehicle to the rover, relaunch the previous command with the specified argument for a vehicle. By default, value is set as iris.

roslaunch px4 mavros_posix_sitl.launch vehicle:="rover"

You should be able to see many /mavros/... topics using rostopic list in a new terminal. Also if you execute rosnode list in a new terminal, you should see the following.

$ rosnode list

To double-check that MAVROS node is connected correctly to the PX4 SITL app, try to echo some topics _e.g._

rostopic echo /mavros/state

This will show if the MAVROS node is connected to the PX4 SITL or not.

Now, you can monitor the rover’s states and control it via a MAVROS node.

Custom Setpoint Node

Now, it’s time for some coding! You will write a ROS node in Python that publishes the desired position setpoints into mavros/setpoint_position/local.

Publishing to mavros/setpoint_position/local topic is not enough to get the autopilot to track the setpoints. It has to be in OFFBOARD mode. So, in your custom node, you will have to send a signal to activate this mode, only once. You need to remember that for this mode to work, you will need to be publishing setpoints beforehand, then, activate it, and continue publishing setpoints. If you don’t publish setpoints at more than 2Hz, it will go into a failsafe mode and OFFBOARD mode will be off.

First, create your custom ROS package. The code is commented so you can get an idea of what each part does. Go through code and try to understand it!

cd ~/catkin_ws/src
catkin_create_pkg mypackage std_msgs mavros_msgs roscpp rospy
cd mypackage
# usually python scripts (nodes) are placed in a folder called scripts
mkdir scripts
cd scripts

Make the python file an executable,

chmod +x

The python file is missing the topic name for the publisher. Your goal is to fix it by providing the right name for the topic.

Make a launch folder. We will create a ROS launch file to run everything at once. Open the launch file and understand what every line executes.

cd ~/catkin_ws/src/mypackage
mkdir launch
cd launch

This launch includes MAVROS sitl launch file. But you still need to change parameter for the vehicle, so it spawns the rover into the simulated world.

Build and source the catkin workspace. In a new terminal, you can run the launch file by executing:

roslaunch mypackage main.launch

Now, you should see a rover following the square autonomously.


Sarah Toonsi and Kuat Telegenov.