setting our {open-source} VR framework free!


Sounding the gong & ringing the bells the moment we set the project free!

After nearly three years of research & development, I’m happy to announce that we have finally open sourced our multi-person, virtual-reality enabled, real-time simulation framework under GPL. It lets groups of researchers go into VR, and touch molecular objects as if they were tangible objects. Our working name for the project is ‘Narupa’, which we arrived by combining the prefix ‘nano’ and the suffix ‘arupa’. Wikipedia explains how arūpa is a Sanskrit word describing non-physical and non-material objects. It seemed to us a good concept for describing what it’s like to interact with simulated nanoscale objects. It’s still a name-in-progress, so let us know how you find it.

We first prototyped this technology in Jan 2016 at London’s Barbican Arts Centre, as part of an ‘Open Lab’ residency which I organised using funding from the EPSRC and the Royal Society. It involved several participants from my University of Bristol research lab and also Phil Tew from my company Interactive Scientific Ltd., all of whom feature in a blog post & video which we made at the time. We’ve been hard at work in the intervening years, for example using it to carry out the studies described in our 2018 open-access paper in Science Advances. A number of my academic and industrial research colleagues have already joined us in our community efforts. I look forward to announcing a whole host of interesting partnerships over the next few months. It’s been particularly exciting for me to observe how our consciously open-source ethos has inspired my international research colleagues to release open-source versions of their own simulation codes, in order to participate in a community. We’ve had several emails from excited collaborators who have cloned the repo and are getting things running.

I’m absolutely delighted to have set this project free into the intellectual & cultural commons. Getting it out there has taken some doing, but now it’s done, set free into the commons as an open resource for enabling communities to cooperatively learn from one another. The video I’ve embedded in this post marks the moment at which we set Narupa free, complete with an ad hoc ceremony involving gongs and bells. It’s a credit to the fantastically creative VR researchers that I have the privilege to work with – Mike O’Connor, Alex Jones, Helen Deeks, Lisa May Thomas, Rebecca Walters, Simon Bennie, and Alex Binnie – these are people who know when to sound the gongs and ring the bells!

Stay tuned over the next few months, because there’s plenty more on the horizon. We’re building loads of cool new open-source features like quantum mechanical force engines, real-time data sonification and audio, and also code enabling you to stream your own real-time simulations from the cloud! We’ve also got a number of papers in the pipeline which will be coming out soon, where we will demonstrate a whole host of interesting application domains. We’ve even included instructions on how to build your own multi-person VR lab.

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