As with any software that I'm learning for the first time it helps tremendously if I start with example programs and build on what is taught there. For this project, the Player/Stage/Gazebo robot simulation software will be used. After installing it in Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty (which in itself is not exactly an easy task with multiple libraries needing to be compiled and installed), I ran the most basic example.
So what's going on is the red spot moving on the left window is a mobile robot equipped with a laser range scanner. The blue field emanating out from the robot is the laser scanner that looks for objects along the path of the robot and if it comes within a certain threshold that object is avoided. The tail behind the robot is just the recent path that the robot took and is good for noticing trajectory changes. On the right window, we have the output of the sensor in respect to the robot. So in essence, it is the robot view of the world around itself using the available sensor data.
This is a really simple example and I will build on it to create what I hope is a great project.