Planning with Approximated Constraint Manifolds

OMPL supports custom constraints to enable planning trajectories that follow a desired behavior. Constraints can be defined in joint space and Cartesian space where the latter is either orientation or position based. While planning a trajectory each joint state needs to follow all of the set constraints, which is performed by rejection sampling by default. This however might lead to very long planning times, especially when the constraints are very restrictive and the rejection rate is correspondingly high.

Sucan et al present an approach where they compute an approximation of the constraint manifold beforehand and perform trajectory planning in that. The OMPL plugin contains the functionality to do that for a given set of constraints and save it in a database. In later instances the database can be loaded to use for constrained planning with any OMPL planner which strongly reduces planning time.

This tutorial includes the steps on how to construct the constraint approximation database and on how to use it for constrained trajectory planning. For more information on how to plan with path constraints in general, take a look at the Path Constraints Tutorial.

Creating the Constraint Database

Constructing a Constraints database is done with the generate_state_database executable. This loads the constraint definition (in a format explained below) from the ROS parameter server and outputs the state database to a given directory.

Defining constraints

The generate_state_database executable reads constraints from ROS parameters on /constraints, in a more compact format that a complete ROS message. You can define these in rosparam to be loaded together in a file, eg. X_moveit_config/config/constraints.yaml:

  name: some_constraints
  - type: orientation
    frame_id: world
    # etc, as described below


A JointConstraint limits the positions a joint can take. There are three ways to compactly specify this.

  1. position + a single tolerance

  2. position + lower an upper tolerance

  3. upper and lower bound

For example:

- type: joint
  joint_name: first_joint
  position: 0.1
  tolerance: 0.2
  weight: 1.0
- type: joint
  joint_name: second_joint
  position: 0.1
  tolerances: [0.1, 0.2]
  weight: 1.0
- type: joint
  joint_name: third_joint
  bounds: [-0.5, 1.0]
  weight: 1.0


A PositionConstraint constraints the Cartesian positions allowed for a (position relative to a) link. target_offset is that relative position w.r.t. a link, e.g., the tip of the end-effector relative to its mounting point or other origin definition. This region (boxes only in this compact definition) is compactly defined by specifying the upper and lower bounds along each axis.

For example:

- type: position
  frame_id: base_link
  link_name: gripper_link
  target_offset: [0.01, 0.01, 0.01]
    x: [0, 1.0] # [start, end]
    y: [0, 1.0] # [start, end]
    z: [0, 1.0] # [start, end]
  weight: 1.0


An OrientationConstraint can be used to keep eg. something upright (or mostly upright with respect to some tolerance).

It is compactly represented with a list of roll, pitch, yaw and a list of tolerances for each axis, for example:

- type: orientation
  frame_id: base_link
  link_name: gripper_link
  orientation: [-3.1415269, -1.57079632, 0] #RPY
  tolerances: [6.28318531, 0.2, 6.28318531]
  weight: 1.0


A VisibilityConstraint allows to eg. specify a camera should always be able to see the gripper.

How this is achieved is best explained by the VisibilityConstraint class documentation.

Such a constraint is compactly defined like this:

- type: visibility
  target_radius: 0.5
    frame_id: 'base_link'
    position: [1.2, 3.4, 5.6]
    orientation: [-3.1415269, -1.57079632, 0] #RPY
  cone_sides: 4
    frame_id: 'gripper_cam_link'
    position: [1.2, 3.4, 5.6]
    orientation: [-3.1415269, -1.57079632, 0] #RPY
  max_view_angle: 1.1
  max_range_angle: 0.55
  weight: 1.0

Running the database generator

Assuming MoveIt itself is already launched (via eg. roslaunch X_moveit_config demo.launch), you can use a launch file similar to generate_state_database.launch.

The file with the constraint definitions can be passed to the launch file:

roslaunch ompl_interface generate_state_database.launch constraints_file:=$(rospack find X_moveit_config)/config/constraints.yaml planning_group:=arm


The main functionality is implemented in the ConstraintsLibrary class.

Constraints are added by calling addConstraintApproximation() which can be called subsequently to include multiple constraints in the approximation. The function requires four parameters:

  • constraints message (moveit_msgs::Constraints)

  • robot description (std::string)

  • planning scene (planning_scene::PlanningScenePtr)

  • construction options (ompl_interface::ConstraintApproximationConstructionOptions)

The robot description is the name of the move group and the planning scene should be initialized as usual with the corresponding robot model.

Initialization of the constraints message and the options is explained below.

Constraints message

The constraints message object can be initialized as usual with any type and required tolerances. The critical point is that the name of the message should be descriptive and unique to the constraint. That name is used later on to reference the correct constraint when planning with the approximation database.

Construction Options

The ompl_interface::ConstraintApproximationConstructionOptions object specifies various features of the approximation manifold, as for instance size, density, space parameterization type and others. Below is an overview over each of the options:

  • unsigned int samples - size of the approximation graph

  • unsigned int edges_per_sample - degree of the approximation graph

  • double max_edge_length - distance threshold for edge insertion

  • bool explicit_motions - defines if edges should follow constraints

  • double explicit_points_resolution - interpolation resolution of edges for constraint checks

  • unsigned int max_explicit_points - maximum points of an edge to check

Graph size

Obviously stable planning results require a detailed approximation, thus the higher the samples is the more reliable the performance. However higher values lead to linearly longer construction time for the database. Finding an appropriate size of the manifold is a problem that is highly dependent on how restrictive the constraints are. For most constraints it should suffice to use values in range of 1000 to 10000 with no noticeable improvements with higher values as suggested in the paper.


Adding edges to the manifold is optional and can be disabled by setting edges_per_sample to 0. Trajectory planning will work without edges in most cases just fine since the sampling process only needs the states to function. max_edge_length defines the maximum distance of two states that allows an edge between them to be added. By setting explicit_motions to true the edges are also enforced to match the constraints, making them represent valid paths between adjacent states. That is advantageous especially in approximations that are very sparse with many regions that are hard to reach since absolute distance is not necessary a measure for reachability. The check if an edge matches a constraint is done by testing linearly interpolated points between the state pair. The number of these interpolated points is set to explicit_points_resolution times the edge length and is limited by max_explicit_points.

Adding edges increases the construction time of the database tremendously whereas increasing adding explicit motion checks even has an additional impact on that. When experimenting with edges, keep in mind that the edges_per_sample and max_edge_length values should be adjusted so that there are always just enough states close enough to be connected. That requires analysis of the size of the approximation space in terms of density and adapting to the actual distance between the states.

Database Construction

After adding the constraints to the ConstraintsLibrary object the database can be constructed by calling saveApproximationConstraints() which only takes the relative directory in which the database should be saved.

Database Loading and Usage

The constraints database must be loaded at launch of the move group node by setting the ros parameter:

<param name="move_group/constraint_approximations_path" value="<path_to_database>"/>

To verify if the database was found an successfully loaded check if the named constraint is shown in the log.

For planning just initialize the constraints message as always and set the messages name to the exact name that was used to construct the database. Also you need to specify the same values and tolerances again since by default the planner just samples over the states but does not necessary follow the constraints during interpolation for path planning. A correctly named constraint message without initialized constraints would use the database but can therefore lead to invalid trajectories anyway.