Validating Robotics Simulators on Real World Impacts

Validating Robotics Simulators on Real World Impacts

Oct 13, 2021
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A realistic simulation environment is an essential tool in every roboticist's toolkit, with uses ranging from planning and control to training policies with reinforcement learning. Despite the centrality of simulation in modern robotics, little work has been done to compare the performance of robotics simulators against real-world data, especially for scenarios involving dynamic motions with high speed impact events. Handling dynamic contact is the computational bottleneck for most simulations, and thus the modeling and algorithmic choices surrounding impacts and friction form the largest distinctions between popular tools. Here, we evaluate the ability of several simulators to reproduce real-world trajectories involving impacts. Using experimental data, we identify system-specific contact parameters of popular simulators Drake, MuJoCo, and Bullet, analyzing the effects of modeling choices around these parameters. For the simple example of a cube tossed onto a table, simulators capture inelastic impacts well while failing to capture elastic impacts. For the higher-dimensional case of a Cassie biped landing from a jump, the simulators capture the bulk motion well but the accuracy is limited by numerous model differences between the real robot and the simulators.

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