Simulation in the context of robotic engineering often focuses on very special details of global systems. For example robot designers usually begin with the analysis of new actuators and joint designs. This corresponds to a “bottom-up”-strategy in the development of complex simulation models. This is probably a good choice for classical fields of robotic applications, e.g. in production plants with well defined system states and environments, because it allows very detailed insights into the analyzed subsystems. On the other hand, unpredictable effects of the interaction of multiple subsystems may easily be overseen. To overcome this problem, this paper presents the idea and some practical aspects of the implementation of a virtual test environment (Virtual Testbed). In a Virtual Testbed, the entire system is simulated as a whole in virtual reality — not only small subsystems of a global system. According to requirements simulation of special subsystems is refined by specific simulation methods and integrated into the overall simulation framework. In contrast to the classical “bottom-up”-strategy this can be seen as a “top-down”-approach in the development of complex simulation models. Therefore a platform for the development of versatile simulation and testing environments is presented. Using the example of the evaluation and testing of an extraterrestrial walking exploration robot design in its Virtual Testbed, the idea is further deepened. As a special field of attention the integration of a method of soil simulation for the refinement of foot-ground-interaction as a particular requirement of this kind of simulation is described.

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