Acoustics is an important feature of buildings, because a failure of acoustics can make it quite difficult for people to understand each other. Acoustic consultants use simulation software to predict indoor acoustics. One of the focus points of the Building Acoustics research group led by Professor Maarten Hornikx (Built Environment) is the development and improvement of this kind of software. “We develop new methods, work on faster computational power and make improved models,” the professor says.
Acoustic consultants usually use software offered by commercial parties. Contact with researchers is all but non-existent. “Communication is lacking at this moment, there is no bridge. We can develop all the things we want, but it’s pointless if they have no relevance.” All parties would benefit from better collaboration, Hornikx believes. Researchers need user input in order to make systems more accurate, consultants would like to be able to trust the software they use, and commercial parties want to offer the best possible product. The professor hopes to bring all this together in an online open source platform, for which he has been awarded a grant worth 800,000 euros from the Dutch Research Council (NWO).
“We want to use this project to further develop our existing models and to create a community,” Hornikx says. The grant money will be used to recruit a PhD student and a postdoc tasked with developing the software. They will ensure that a foundation of the software becomes available as open source for other parties to build on. And by making the software publicly accessible, interested parties will also have insight into how the models came about. This will provide consultants with more information on the reliability of the simulations.
A second PhD student and a PDEng, under supervision of Alexander Serebrenik (Mathematics and Computer Science), will focus on setting up a community. “Alexander views this project as a living lab. He looks at what motivates people to contribute to an open source platform and how you can keep them involved,” Hornikx says.
Commercial parties are also welcome to join. “They are free to utilize our open source software for commercial use. A development that emerged from our group has ended up in commercial software before. A company implemented information from our paper without communicating about it with us first. In a worst-case scenario, a commercial party like that will apply for a patent for something that was developed by us. With this new open source setup, a license will ensure that parties can only use the code if they subsequently make their own code publicly available as well.”
The important thing now is for researchers, commercial parties and consultants to interact on the work they’re doing, Hornikx says. “In the current situation, I don’t hear much about where the problems lie with simulations. Where do things go wrong? I’d like to hear about that.” A community would strengthen the entire chain, he believes. “I’m really looking forward to getting to work on this project. Getting the funding is always a cause for anxiety. Eight hundred thousand euros is a lot of money.”