Another major update has been made to FlightGear, the free and open source flight simulator that can be regarded as a game or as a research tool.
Major improvements from v2.4.which was released six months ago include reduced AI aircraft load times, easier graphics tuning, more sophisticated AI aircraft and improved usability.
For gamers there are many new and updated AI aircraft and liveries with over 80 airlines now populating the virtual skies. The range at which AI aircraft are displayed is now configurable, allowing you to tune FlightGear for best performance. AI and multiplayer aircraft are no longer silent objects, they can produce sounds just like the main aircraft and AI controlled pilots now make a more realistic approach and vacate the runway when able.
The JSBSim flight dynamics model has received a major overhaul and multiplayer and AI aircraft models are now loaded in a background thread and, to reduce load times still further, only the parts of the aircraft currently visible are loaded from disk.
There have been further improvements to the visual effects so that the sea now looks more realistic - waves align with the wind, and foam appears at high wind speed - and runways now appear wet during rain showers. To help aircraft developers, a single shader combining bump-map, specular, reflection and light mapping components is now available.
The weather module introduced in v2.4 has been further integrated with the FlightGear core, and has been renamed “Advanced Weather”. New rendering techniques allow more detailed clouds with no performance impact; high altitude clouds are rendered more realistically, and clouds move with the wind without impacting performance. An article on the Flight Gear website gives an interesting account of how different weather phenomena influence each other and the challenges for accurate rendering and simulation.
Google Research is working on a new initiative to introduce kids to computing in ab entirely hands-on, physical way. A prototype has been produced to show how it the tangible programming approach  [ ... ]