A London startup that wants to be the 'Google of simulation' is building an entire virtual city

Herman Narula improbable ceoImprobableImprobable founder and CEO Herman Narula.

Improbable, a London startup that claims it wants to be the “Google of simulation” is officially launching its operating system today — as well as a virtual city that it claims will help academics.

Improbable’s premise is that in computer science today, “people have mastered apps how to build things for a single computer,” CEO Herman Narula tells me.

“And all the power of a single computer people can use it to do really good things. But there’s this whole other wonderful set of probs that we want to solve — like recreating whole cities, or creating beautiful virtual worlds for us to explore, or being able to recreate economies, or being able to model all the processes in company — things that if we could do, we could do really great things.”

Simulating these kind of things remains extremely difficult, and requires a lot of technical expertise to get computers working together adequately. Improbable aims to do this legwork for you — freeing you up to do the actual simulation itself.

Improbable’s initial focus was on the tech’s gaming implications — massive multiplayer game-worlds — but it also has applications in science, research, defence, and more.

On Wednesday morning at Slush conference in Helsinki, it announced it was officially launching SpatialOS, its operating system. Select partners have been working with it already, but Narula tells me that they will now be slowly “ramping up” the number of the users, with the aim of getting to “more of an open release next year.”

Its second announcement: A virtual city, built with the help of “various academics” to model the interactions of millions of interconnected entities, from civilians to cars. “We’re going to have an oracle for an entire city,” Narula told me.

It’s here when the founder and CEO starts to get really ambitious.

“The end game here is to give a city an operating system,” he says. “This isn’t just a simulation — this is an operational model.

“You could take this thing, plug in live sensors, and start using it to really run day-to-day operation. If a garbage truck is late — what should the implication of that be across the city? We can find out in a moment. If you wanted to create a new service, or an Uber-like service, [it] might be able to hook into this, leverage it to become much more efficient.

“We’re talking about a gigantic, always-runing, what-if machine for an entire city. And the point we want to make to the world is: This is the point we need to get to, not just for cities — for any complex system. All our infrastructure companies should be run this way, because this is the only way we can understand the consequences of our actions, planned and properly, in a world that is rapidly becoming way more complicated.

“This is just a natural next step.”

Improbable was founded in 2012, and earlier this year, it landed $US20 million (£14 million) in venture capital funding from Andreessen Horowitz, a US-based firm.

This story is developing…

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