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I think the problem was that the joint_seg_1 was attached to a link with no physical properties, once I created an extra link below base_link (which as the root is not allowed to have physical properties) the error went away:

<link name="head">
    <visual>
        <origin xyz="0 0 0" rpy="0 0 0" />
        <geometry>
          <mesh filename="package://testbot_description/meshes/cylinder.dae" scale="${seg_length/3} ${seg_length/6} ${seg_length/3}" />
        </geometry>
    </visual>

    <collision>
      <origin xyz="0 0 0" rpy="0 0 0" />
      <geometry>
        <cylinder length="${seg_length/6}" radius="${seg_length/3}" />
      </geometry>
    </collision>

    <inertial>
        <origin xyz="0 0 0" rpy="0 0 0" />
        <mass value="1" />
        <inertia
          ixx="1.0" ixy="0.0" ixz="0.0"
          iyy="1.0" iyz="0.0"
          izz="1.0" />
    </inertial>

</link>

  <joint name="joint_base_head" type="fixed">
        <parent link="base_link" />
        <child link="head" />
        <origin xyz="0 0 0" rpy="0 0 0" />
        <axis xyz="0 0 1" />
  </joint>

<xacro:segment parent="head" postfix="1" length="${seg_length}" width="${seg_width}" height="${seg_height}" />

https://github.com/lucasw/testbot/commit/a883039bcd4d56917bb3e5da89797e48373e1685