Simulation has been used for a long time in engineering and physics, and is increasingly used in chemistry, biology, economics, finance, and healthcare, among other fields.
Types of simulation
Simulations exist to satisfy a vast spectrum of needs and interests, including:
- complex physical systems, usually done with the purpose of scientific study, as in weather prediction
- human-machine interaction for entertainment, as in flight simulators and racecourse driving simulators
- skills development, as in patient simulators oriented to avoiding potential harm to live inpatients, with the opportunity to role play and work on standardized patients
- medic training simulators specific to battlefield wound treatment — employing fake castings to reproduce real-life wounds (from the French term moulage) and computerized mannequins with realistic circulatory and respiratory systems and related vitals — that help minimize shock to medics when eventually faced with the real thing.
Massive simulations exist, addressing collective behavior — such as that of insect swarms and flocking birds — and to study problems such as the evacuation of a city in case of a terrorist attack or that of a tunnel in case of flooding. Examples of flocking simulations increasingly occur in movies. In flocking simulations, given a (changing) target destination in the sky, the actual flying paths of the simulated creatures arise from their emergent behaviors for individual steering, take into account an immediate flying neighborhood, and include criteria such as “staying together”, “not colliding”, and “heading in a common direction.” Interestingly, the flying trajectories are not pre-programmed via specific instructions. The animation one sees on the screen reflects the underlying simulation.
The variety of contexts and applications for simulation is constantly on the increase. This is to be expected, given the flexibility to experiment which it affords us and the cost and time savings with respect to the waste inherent in full build-out alternatives.