Simulation is the imitation of some real thing, state of affairs, or process. The act of simulating something generally entails representing certain key characteristics or behaviours of a selected physical or abstract system.
Historically, the word had negative connotations:
However, the connection between simulation and dissembling later faded out and is now only of linguistic interest.
Simulation is used in many contexts, including the modeling of natural systems or human systems in order to gain insight into their functioning. Other contexts include simulation of technology for performance optimization, safety engineering, testing, training and education. Simulation can be used to show the eventual real effects of alternative conditions and courses of action.
Key issues in simulation include acquisition of valid source information about the referent, selection of key characteristics and behaviours, the use of simplifying approximations and assumptions within the simulation, and fidelity and validity of the simulation outcomes.
Physical simulation refers to simulation in which physical objects are substituted for the real thing (some circles use the term for computer simulations modelling selected laws of physics, but this article doesn't). These physical objects are often chosen because they are smaller or cheaper than the actual object or system.
Interactive simulation is a special kind of physical simulation, often referred to as a human in the loop simulation, in which physical simulations include human operators, such as in a flight simulator or a driving simulator.
Human in the loop simulations can include a computer simulation as a so-called synthetic environment.
A computer simulation (or "sim") is an attempt to model a real-life or hypothetical situation on a computer so that it can be studied to see how the system works. By changing variables, predictions may be made about the behaviour of the system.
Computer simulation has become a useful part of modeling many natural systems in physics, chemistry and biology, and human systems in economics and social science (the computational sociology) as well as in engineering to gain insight into the operation of those systems. A good example of the usefulness of using computers to simulate can be found in the field of network traffic simulation. In such simulations, the model behaviour will change each simulation according to the set of initial parameters assumed for the environment.
Traditionally, the formal modeling of systems has been via a mathematical model, which attempts to find analytical solutions enabling the prediction of the behaviour of the system from a set of parameters and initial conditions. Computer simulation is often used as an adjunct to, or substitution for, modeling systems for which simple closed form analytic solutions are not possible. There are many different types of computer simulation, the common feature they all share is the attempt to generate a sample of representative scenarios for a model in which a complete enumeration of all possible states would be prohibitive or impossible.
Modern usage of the term "computer simulation" may encompass virtually any computer-based representation.
In Computer science, simulation has some specialized meanings: Alan Turing used the term "simulation" to refer to what happens when a Universal Machine executes a state transition table (in modern terminology, a computer runs a program) that describes the state transitions, inputs and outputs of a subject discrete-state machine. The computer simulates the subject machine. Accordingly, in theoretical computer science the term simulation is a relation between state transition systems, useful in the study of operational semantics.
Less theoretically, an interesting application of computer simulation is to simulate computers using computers. In computer architecture, a type of simulator, typically called an emulator, is often used to execute a program that has to run on some inconvenient type of computer, or in a tightly controlled testing environment (see Computer architecture simulator). For example, simulators have been used to debug a microprogram or sometimes commercial application programs, before the program is downloaded to the target machine. Since the operation of the computer is simulated, all of the information about the computer's operation is directly available to the programmer, and the speed and execution of the simulation can be varied at will.
Training simulations typically come in one of three categories:
In standardized tests, "live" simulations are sometimes called "high-fidelity", producing "samples of likely performance", as opposed to "low-fidelity", "pencil-and-paper" simulations producing only "signs of possible performance, but the distinction between high, moderate and low fidelity remains relative, depending on the context of a particular comparison.
Simulations in education are somewhat like training simulations. They focus on specific tasks. The term 'microworld' is used to refer to educational simulations which model some abstract concept rather than simulating a realistic object or environment, or in some cases model a real world environment in a simplistic way so as to help a learner develop an understanding of the key concepts. Normally, a user can create some sort of constructions within the microworld which will behave in a way consistent with the concepts being modeled. Seymour Papert was one of the first to advocate the value of microworlds, and the Logo programming environment developed by Papert is one of the most famous microworlds.
Management games (or business simulations) have been finding favour in business education in recent years. Business simulations that incorporate a dynamic model enable experimentation with business strategies in a risk free environment and provide a useful extension to case study discussions.
Many medical simulators involve a computer connected to a plastic simulation of the relevant anatomy. Sophisticated simulators of this type employ a life size mannequin that responds to injected drugs and can be programmed to create simulations of life-threatening emergencies. In other simulations, visual components of the procedure are reproduced by computer graphics techniques, while touch-based components are reproduced by haptic feedback devices combined with physical simulation routines computed in response to the user's actions. Medical simulations of this sort will often use 3D CT or MRI scans of patient data to enhance realism. Some medical simulations are developed to be widely distributed (such as web-enabled simulations that can be viewed via standard web browsers) and can be interacted with using standard computer interfaces, such as the keyboard and mouse.
Another important medical application of a simulator — although, perhaps, denoting a slightly different meaning of simulator — is the use of a placebo drug, a formulation that simulates the active drug in trials of drug efficacy (see Placebo (origins of technical term)).
Since antiquity, these representations in clay and stone were used to demonstrate clinical features of disease states and their effects on humans. Models have been found from many cultures and continents. These models have been used in some cultures (e.g., Chinese culture) as a "diagnostic" instrument, allowing women to consult male physicians while maintaining social laws of modesty. Models are used today to help students learn the anatomy of the musculoskeletal system and organ systems.
The classroom of the future will also form the basis of a clinical skills unit for continuing education of medical personnel; and in the same way that the use of periodic flight training assists airline pilots, this technology will assist practitioners throughout their career.
The simulator will be more than a "living" textbook, it will become an integral a part of the practice of medicine. The simulator environment will also provide a standard platform for curriculum development in institutions of medical education.
Simulation solutions are being increasingly integrated with CAx (CAD, CAM, CAE....) solutions and processes. The use of simulation throughout the product lifecycle, especially at the earlier concept and design stages, has the potential of providing substantial benefits. These benefits range from direct cost issues such as reduced prototyping and shorter time-to-market, to better performing products and higher margins. However, for some companies, simulation has not provided the expected benefits.
The research firm Aberdeen Group has found that nearly all best-in-class manufacturers use simulation early in the design process as compared to 3 of 4 laggards who do not.
The successful use of Simulation, early in the lifecycle, has been largely driven by increased integration of simulation tools with the entire CAD, CAM and PLM solution-set. Simulation solutions can now function across the extended enterprise in a multi-CAD environment, and include solutions for managing simulation data and processes and ensuring that simulation results are made part of the product lifecycle history. The ability to use simulation across the entire lifecycle has been enhanced through improved user interfaces such as tailorable user interfaces and "wizards" which allow all appropriate PLM participants to take part in the simulation process.
Most engineering simulations entail mathematical modeling and computer assisted investigation. There are many cases, however, where mathematical modeling is not reliable. Simulation of fluid dynamics problems often require both mathematical and physical simulations. In these cases the physical models require dynamic similitude. Physical and chemical simulations have also direct realistic uses, rather than research uses; in chemical engineering, for example, process simulations are used to give the process parameters immediately used for operating chemical plants, such as oil refineries.
In finance, computer simulations are often used for scenario planning. Risk-adjusted net present value, for example, is computed from well-defined but not always known (or fixed) inputs. By imitating the performance of the project under evaluation, simulation can provide a distribution of NPV over a range of discount rates and other variables.
A flight simulator is used to train pilots on the ground. It permits a pilot to crash his simulated "aircraft" without being hurt. Flight simulators are often used to train pilots to operate aircraft in extremely hazardous situations, such as landings with no engines, or complete electrical or hydraulic failures. The most advanced simulators have high-fidelity visual systems and hydraulic motion systems. The simulator is normally cheaper to operate than a real trainer aircraft.
Simulators like these are mostly used within maritime colleges, training institutions and navies. They often consist of a replication of a ships' bridge, with operating desk(s), and a number of screens on which the virtual surroundings are projected.
A truck simulator provides an opportunity to reproduce the characteristics of real vehicles in a virtual environment. It replicates the external factors and conditions with which a vehicle interacts enabling a driver to feel as if they are sitting in the cab of their own vehicle. Scenarios and events are replicated with sufficient reality to ensure that drivers become fully immersed in the experience rather than simply viewing it as an educational programme.
The simulator provides a constructive experience for the novice driver and enables more complex exercises to be undertaken by the more mature driver. For novice drivers, truck simulators provide an opportunity to begin their career by applying best practice. For mature drivers, simulation provides the ability to enhance good driving or to detect poor practice and to suggest the necessary steps for remedial action. For companies, it provides an opportunity to educate staff in the driving skills that achieve reduced maintenance costs, improved productivity and, most importantly, to ensure the safety of their actions in all possible situations.