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After some more experimentation and tuning, we've found two things:

  1. We had acc_lim_th set too low.
  2. As mentioned in the Navigation Tuning Guide, sim_time matters a lot.

Another thing that's helping with our understanding of dwa_local_planner is to visualize the trajectory cost cloud, as described here. We cut power to the robot's drive train, fire up rqt_reconfigure, then issue a nav goal in RViz. From there, we can watch the planner do its thing while tweaking the DWA-related params.