A new IBM
DeveloperWorks article by M. Tim
Jones gives a handy overview of robotics simulation software. The
article describes the Open
Dynamics Engine, a Free Software library that models articulated
rigid-body dynamics. Descriptions of several robotics simulation
toolkits with Free
Software, Open Source,
and other, more restrictive licenses are also provided. Jones also
closed feedback loop formed between a robot and the environment. He
proposes that simulation software can lower the cost of robot
development. Simulators are undoubtly fun to play with but it's good
to remember Brooks' observation that "It's easier to build something in
the real world than to make a really good simulation of the real
One of the fun things about robots vs computers, is that with robots
you have something real and 3-dimensional that meanders around at the
end of the day. I think you lose some of that fun if you spend all
your time in simulation. Of course, if your robot is meant to do life-
critical work such as tele-medicine, search and rescue, or
(especially) launching missiles, then maybe some time in a simulator
would be a good idea.
The article is a very brief overview. It unfortunately did not discuss
simulators that provided their own unique programming API, vs.
simulators that were drop-in replacements for robots using the same API
as would be used for a real robot (which allow you to use the simulator
for debugging, then use the same exact program on the real robot).
Gazebo, briefly mentioned in the article, is one such simulator (since
it can be plugged in to Player, which also controls many kinds of robots
and other devices). It did not mention Stage, which is a 2D counterpart
to Gazebo that also uses Player. Stage's core simulation library can
also be used directly.