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Simulation and Machine Learning in Robotics

Rationale: The premise of this workshop is that modeling and simulation (M&S) plays an increasingly important role in designing robots and shaping their interaction with each other, humans, and their surrounding environment. Robust and validated simulation tools come into play in quasi-static and dynamic motion/action planning and solution optimization. They are also used to generate synthetic data in machine learning exercises. To deliver on the potential of M&S, these simulation tools should be capable of handling complex scenarios that might include compliant/deformable robots, terramechanics, fluid-solid interaction, friction/contact/impact, operations in non-trivial virtual worlds, sensor simulation, etc. The goal of this one-day workshop is to bring together experts from two communities: robotics and M&S, in a brainstorming session that would point out opportunities, identify challenges, and propose “next steps” vis-à-vis the goal of increasing the role that M&S plays in smart robotics.

Workshop outcomes: The outcomes of this meeting are twofold: identify robotics M&S needs; and, suggest concrete and immediate measures/steps that could increase the impact that M&S plays in the future of robotics. Rather than debating/discussing the merits of the existing M&S tools/approaches, the interest is in identifying M&S research priorities, identifying standards/specifications that will guide and accelerate the adoption of M&S, fostering the creation of repositories of standardized/shared models for validation and evaluation, etc. We plan to summarize the lessons learned in a blue-ribbon report cosigned by the workshop participants and potentially published as a manuscript in a robotics journal.

Confirmed Participants:

Workshop Sponsors:

  • Berg, Jordan: National Science Foundation
  • Han, David: US Navy
  • Messina, Elena: National Institute of Standards and Technology
  • Simmons, Reid: National Science Foundation
  • Sprinkler, Jonathan: National Science Foundation


  • Byravan, Arunkumar: University of Washington
  • Fox, Dieter: University of Washington
  • Meier, Franziska: University of Washington
  • Negrut, Dan: University of Wisconsin-Madison


Email: workshop [at] (workshop[at]simulationinrobotics[dot]science)


Schedule (subject to change):

07:30 – Registration

08:00 – Introduction: goal of the workshop, logistics

08:15 – Participant self-introduction

08:30 – Summary of robotics challenges where M&S can come into play (Fox, using participant-provided input)

09:30 – Summary of perceived state of the art in M&S (Negrut, using participant-provided input)

10:00 – Coffee/Snack Break

10:30 – Breakout, Topic 1: M&S needs in Robotics. Identify a “wish list” in relation to:

  • Machine learning aspects
  • Sensor simulation
  • Virtual world simulation
  • Communication simulation
  • Networking and distributed computing
  • Etc.

11:15 – Joint session. Each group summarizes its thinking on issues related to Topic 1. General discussion.

12:00 – Lunch (onsite, catered)

12:30 – Breakout, Topic 2: Issues that continue to hinder M&S in Robotics. Suggested discussion points:

  • Nonsmooth dynamics (friction/contact/impact)
  • Soft robotics (nonlinear geometry/nonlinear material/nonlinear boundary conditions)
  • Multi-physics (CFD, plasticity)
  • Terramechanics
  • Central repository of standardized, shared models
  • Open-source issues
  • Etc.

13:15 – Joint session. Each group summarizes its thinking on issues related to Topic 2. General discussion.

14:00 – Coffee/Snack Break

14:30 – Breakout, Topic 3: Concrete and immediate measures/steps. Possible breakthroughs. Speculations about disruptive technologies vis-à-vis the issue of M&S in Robotics. Suggested discussion points:

  • Prioritization aspects. Best return on investment avenues, low hanging fruit
  • “The long view” issues
  • Imminent landscape changes
  • What is the role of industry (video-games, VR, AR)? What/How can we leverage?
  • Etc.

15:15 – Joint session. Each group summarizes its thinking on issues related to Topic 3. General discussion.

16:00 – Coffee/Snack Break

16:15 – The “big picture”, open-floor discussion. Next steps (blue ribbon report and journal paper).

17:00 – Wrap up

Room Block

Hilton Gaithersburg
620 Perry Parkway
Gaithersburg, MD 20877

$125/night plus tax
Include hotel shuttle to and from NIST
Book By April 2nd

Book Now >>


If you are not registered, you will not be allowed on site. Registered attendees will receive security and campus instructions prior to the workshop.

NON U.S. CITIZENS PLEASE NOTE: All foreign national visitors who do not have permanent resident status and who wish to register for the above meeting must supply additional information. Failure to provide this information prior to arrival will result, at a minimum, in significant delays in entering the facility. Authority to gather this information is derived from United States Department of Commerce Department Administrative Order (DAO) number 207-12. 

*New Visitor Access Requirement: Effective July 21, 2014, Under the REAL ID Act of 2005, agencies, including NIST, can only accept a state-issued driver’s license or identification card for access to federal facilities if issued by states that are REAL ID compliant or have an extension. As of Monday, January 30, 2017, Federal agencies will be prohibited from accepting driver’s licenses and identification cards from the following states for accessing federal facilities: Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana and Washington. For further details, please visit:

Acceptable Photo Identification:
For Non-US Citizens: Valid passport for photo identification
For US Permanent Residents: Permanent Resident/Green card for photo identification

Created March 9, 2018, Updated April 9, 2018