British tech startup Improbable is unveiling its SpatialOS software today that will enable even small companies to create massive, cloud-based simulations for online games, mobile devices, and virtual reality projects.
SpatialOS creates a distributed computing environment that allows games to access the back-end infrastructure needed to create impossibly complex systems, like the simulation of an entire city, said Herman Narula, chief executive of Improbable, in an interview with GamesBeat.
“We think this is going to introduce an age of strong simulation,” Narula said.
London-based Improbable made the announcement of the SpatialOS at the Slush conference today in Helsinki, Finland. It’s also quite serious about simulating a whole city.
Narula wants SpatialOS to be used to build detailed, dynamic worlds and simulations at massive scale. SpatialOS will act as a smart, cloud-based infrastructure service, allowing developers to build simulations which will totally transform how we look at complex systems, he said.
Narula said that traditional massively multiplayer online games will be easier to create with SpatialOS, which offloads a huge amount of work from a game studio. But he also said SpatialOS will be useful in creating new virtual reality applications.
“In this case, the VR headset is the front end for your game, and we are the back end that supplies the full world behind it,” Narula said.
Beyond games, Narula believes that SpatialOS will have applications in city management, defense, economics, entertainment and many others.
He said that simulations built on SpatialOS can harness the power of hundreds or even thousands of cloud servers in a single interwoven fabric but will be as easy to build and publish as web applications. This will enable real-time, high-fidelity simulations at levels of scale and detail that were previously impossible.
“Futurists talk about ‘strong AI’ as the moment where Artificial Intelligence stops being a useful tool and instead transforms the world. We view strong simulation as the same kind of transformation for simulation technology.” said Narula. “To really understand the complex systems that drive our world we need to move from just looking at patterns in past data to actually recreating the world with powerful simulations. To unlock the promise of virtual reality, we need to move from simple games to true virtual worlds.”
He added, “However, powerful simulation has always been hindered by the inability of developers to integrate and scale existing models easily or to run them at massive scale or in real time. SpatialOS solves that problem and will make simulation a ubiquitous technology.”
Improbable will collaborate with academics, city planners, and developers to build a fully working model of an entire city powered by SpatialOS. This simulation will map the interaction of traffic patterns, energy consumption, pollution, waste management, and many other elements. This model will create insights that could transform policy decisions around managing infrastructure or become the basis for new businesses, Improbable said.
“Each city is made up of a huge number of complex adaptive systems, which makes it extremely challenging to understand the consequences of a new policy decision, development, or event”, said Narula. “Big data can only tell you what has happened to one particular system. But through a strongly simulated model of a city, we could pose and answer “what if” questions involving all the systems that make up a city in real time.”
Improbable was founded in 2012, and it received $20 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz in March 2015.