Robot Simulator

What is a robot simulator?

A robot simulator is a tool used to visualize and test applications without the need for a physical robot. Simulation enables inventors to virtually test out their robot before building a physical prototype, saving time, money, and materials. Simulation can also be used when determining if existing robots can perform new tasks. 

robot simulator typically consists of a physics engine that simulates the robot’s movements and interactions with the environment, as well as a visualization component that renders the virtual environment and the robot within it. In addition to these core components, a robot simulator may also include tools for debugging and tuning robot applications, as well as interfaces for controlling the virtual robot. Some examples of common simulators include Gazebo from the OSRF, V-Rep, or RoboMaker from Amazon.

There are a number of considerations when selecting a robot simulator, and several sources to help inventors choose. Behavior-based robotics simulators let users build simple worlds of hard objects and light sources for the robot to interact with. These simulators let inventors test actions difficult to verify via computational models. Behavior-based simulators can also be designed to learn from mistakes. 

Other types of simulators try to virtually recreate conditions that are hard to produce on demand, such as harsh weather, before field testing. It is worth noting that sensor-based robot actions are harder to simulate due to the dependence on sensor readings.

Robot simulation benefits

Robot testing may conjure images of hard-hatted workers surrounding a robot in the field, but those rounds of testing don’t happen without first running thousands of simulations. Simulation provides many benefits, including:

  • Faster and cheaper iterations. The road from concept to marketable reality is a long one filled with seemingly endless trial and error. Born out of the software development world, there is now a whole practice called Agile focused on iterating faster. Confirming the viability of a design before testing in the field saves innovators time and money–an important factor in the startup world. 
  • Test in a safe and controlled environment first. Simulations are absolutely essential when applications have significant potential for danger. Example applications include autonomous driving and heavy industrial automation. 
  • Simulate conditions hard to create on demand. Many robots operate in harsh environments and inventors will want to ensure their robots can withstand all the elements. Simulation can help developers refine their design before generating a prototype and seeking out challenging conditions. Robots designed to work in catastrophic situations for search and rescue also benefit from testing using simulated rubble from simulated disasters before deploying in a real-world situation.  
  • Test non-hardware elements of a robotics solution without robots. Not all players in the robotics ecosystem are hardware manufacturers. Non-hardware providers want to work all the kinks out of the software before testing it on the real thing which is where simulators can come into play.