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Thomas Mathers

Impulse or Acceleration?

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I was just wondering where is it applicable to use impulse over acceleration? I know that velocity can be calculated from both impulse and acceleration. For example, I know when objects collide their momentum gets altered and therefore and impulse could be applied to these objects. However could I not achieve the same effect by applying forces to these objects, which affects their acceleration? Also if I am using euler integration in my update function....the velocity directly depends on acceleration....how could I make it depend on momentum and impulse? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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Thinking in terms of an impulse or a force (rather than acceleration) would be more appopriate. You know how to apply the force in your simulation -- just integrate its effect. An impulse is also a force integrate over time, typically very short so that you can effectively say it was applied over an infinitesmially small period of time. When you integrate force over time, you get the units of momentum. So an impulse has the units of momentum and you can apply it directly to the momentum (or velocity) of the object. Perhaps it is easiest to think of an impulse as a force that's applied on a timescale much smaller than the one you are using.

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Original post by Thomas Mathers
So does applying an impulse create an effect similar to acceleration? This is where I am getting confused.


It is like applying acceleration briefly, and then turning it off. It just changes the momentum/velocity of the object, it doesn't keep accelerating afterwards.

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So how would I implement impulses? Would I have to take into account how long the impulse is being applied?


No, that's kind of the point -- you don't deal with time. Think of a pool ball dropped onto concrete. You integrate the force due to gravity as the ball is falling. But when the ball comes into contacts with the concrete it experiences a force pushing it away from the concrete for a VERY short period of time. Now, you can either try to integrate the force due to the collision (probably a bad idea) or you can basically reflect the velocity of the ball so that it goes up. That change in the velocity/momentum is the impulse, or rather you add the impulse to achieve that effect.

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Ok, I think I understand now. But why would using forces in a collision be a bad idea?


In the example I gave, the timescale of the collision is much smaller than the timescale you are interested in. To integrate that accurately you would need to reduced your stepsize A LOT. It depends upon what you are trying to achieve with your simluation, but you probably don't need or want to model a collision explicitly. In that case, it is much simpler and faster to just use an impulse. It is not always bad to model a collision using forces, it depends on the timescale and what you are trying to achieve.

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