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For Rocket Scientists Who Cannot Afford a Rocket

The virtual world of the Internet has changed society. Smart innovations in the non-virtual world, like self driving cars, city wide traffic control systems, space exploration and more, may do it again. The difference: building and launching a web service is considerably cheaper than building and launching a space ship...

Put differently: everyone can contribute to the Internet but only a few are privy to the resources for a space ship... and you are probably not one of them. Azrael's purpose is to remove this barrier and simulate the (macroscopic) physics for "stuff" you cannot afford in the real world.

Take the Rosetta mission as an example. The total cost exceeded a Billion dollars and it took years to complete. On the other hand, to reproduce it in its simplest form for your personal studies you merely need to simulate the physics of two bodies: an asteroid and a space probe. The probe has thruster, the asteroid does not. The challenge: write a controller for the ship to reproduce the original approach and manoeuvres.


Azrael is an API to create bodies and modify their attributes (eg position or geometry). This API is only accessible via the network. Clients can connect to it from anywhere and use it to drive the simulation. For instance, they create objects, control them (like the aforementioned Rosetta probe), render the scene, progress a Newtonian physics simulation...

Azrael is written in Python yet the network API is language agnostic. The API accepts Websockets (Java Script in browsers) and ZeroMQ sockets (everything but Java Script).

To see Azrael in action you may try the demos, watch the PyCon Australia 2015 presentation, or check out (the somewhat dated) demo videos

Not A Game Engine

Azrael does not schedule clients or callbacks - everything happens asynchronously. It also stores all data in databases and fetching it may incur unacceptable latency by the standards of a game.

Another point concerns visualisation: Azrael has none. A client may query object geometries and render them (as seen in the demos) but Azrael itself would neither know nor care.

That being said, some example scenarios appear reasonably smooth when served from an AWS C4 instance. This despite the dumb polling used by the visualisation clients.

Project Status

It is a usable work in progress. The emphasis remains on completing the feature set to build large simulations. Performance optimisation comes afterwards.

The current API suffices to create objects, define and control boosters, exert force, upload meshes and more. It also comes with a Newtonian physics engine (based on Bullet) to simulate elementary motion. This is already enough for a basic Asteroids simulation.

The project also ships with two simple viewers to render the scene. One uses PyQT/OpenGL whereas the other runs in the browser.

Demos and Documentation

The scripts in the demos/ folder showcase various features of Azrael. They are a good source of usage examples and complement the API documentation.

Some of the demos also have dedicated docker-compose files in the demos/docker/ folder to simplify the setup.


The easiest way to see a demo is with Docker Compose:

docker-compose -f asteroids_autopilot.yml up

Then point your browser (recent Firefox or Chrome) to http://localhost:8080 and fly through the scene with mouse and WASD keys.

From Source (For Developers)

To hack on Azrael you need Linux, Anaconda and Docker (Compose). The Dockerfile always constitutes the most up-to-date installation instructions. The following steps should suffice though:

# Get the source code.
git clone
cd azrael

# Create the Anaconda environment 'azrael'.
sudo apt-get install build-essential
conda env create --name azrael --file environment.yml

# Start the auxiliary services (eg database and RabbitMQ).
docker-compose -f devtools/docker-compose-dev.yml up -d

# Activate the Azrael environment and start the demo.
python demos/ --noviewer --cubes 4,4,1

Azrael should now run. With a recent version of Firefox or Chrome you can see the rendered scene at http://localhost:8080. Alternatively, you may omit the "--noviewer" flag and use the Qt viewer (requires an OpenGL 3.3+ capable GPU).

Contribute to Azrael

Pull requests are welcome. Please use best Python practices for documentation and coding style (PEP8). Please add tests for bug fixes and new features - thank you.

A rough road map of short- and medium term tasks is below (all skill levels). My current tasks are also in a Trello Board.


  • One click deployment (Kubernetes?) on AWS and other Clouds.
  • Shrink the size of the Docker image (currently ~1GB).

Core Modules

  • Use the ELK Stack for logging?
  • Make typecheck decorator compatible with PEP484.
  • Replace current annotations with PEP484 compatible ones.
  • Log and visualise profiling information for all major functions calls.
  • Expose event system via Tornado.
  • Build a sensible grid engine.
  • Better (and possibly faster) data validation and/or format, eg JSON schema or CapNProto.
  • Wrap more of Bullet's collision shapes (convex and capsule in particular).

Rendering Frontend

  • New and clean Qt/JS viewers; current ones have become a (still working) mess.
  • Support basic light and shadow effects to better gauge depth.
  • Clients currently have to poll Azrael; how could a push based system work?


  • Reformat existing doc-strings to Google Style Docstring.
  • Spell check and proof read doc-strings.
  • Homepage for Azrael.
  • New/better 3D models.
  • Import 3D models directly from Blender (see demo_blender).
  • Support ThreeJS Model Format 3/4.
  • More and better demos.


Azrael itself (everything under azrael/) is licensed under the terms of the AGPL v3.

All other files, including pyazrael and the demos, are Apache v2 licensed.


Physics Simulation For Engineers






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