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Simulation is neither slow or inaccurate, it is much faster and cheaper than physical build, hence people do them to save time, money and to detect mistakes/errors while still in design phase. Separate simulations are done for separate disciplines involved in robot building (simulations of signal acquisition and processing, simulations of closed/open loop response and control, simulations of parts' rigidity/flexibility, simulations of manufacturing processes, etc.), as opposed to one-off all-in-one simulation covering every aspect of the robot.For control simulations You probably want to get something like MATLAB, as for mechanics simulation - something like Inventor, SolidWorks or CATIA.Main drawback of simulations is that they are perfectly precise and never-changing.
It would be a lot easier to answer Your questions if You told us what exactly You want to simulate, as simulation of mechanics is quite broad.
What do You consider functional? What are the problems You foresee and want to check in simulation? Do You have preliminary design of a system in question to start Your simulation on? Which part of mechanical system do You want to simulate, is it damper response time, is it motor heat dissipation, is it traction with surface, is it chassis flex, etc.? I'll repeat myself - there is no software that would give You "perfect" overall design from nothing. You have to create something first, then test it, then refine it, test it again, refine it again, etc., etc.
I have nothing designed currently, but I'll be studying existing designs as soon as I have some kind of a prototyping platform (i.e. a mechanics/physics simulator) to test out ideas.My first task for the robot would be about the structure, dimensions and method of movement (e.g. what type of wheeling, how many wheels and what kind of suspension) to assess a simple structure that can function (move, does not get stuck and can move in a relatively balanced manner) in a rough terrain.
If I were You, I'd start with modeling robot using Inventor (free for students) and using its kinematics simulator to visualize how suspension moves. Also, Inventor offers stress simulation for You to see if part is going to flex under load and how much.As for environment/physics simulator - the one that I know is Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio. I've never used it and don't really know how difficult or easy it is to use, or how realistic simulations are.
Any examples of software or toolsets (involving many different software) that enable very high level of flexibility for a robot's design phase? What are the drawbacks of simulation (is it slow? inaccurate?)?
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Mechanics and Construction