Google Summer of Code/Project Ideas

The projects below should serve as a good starting point for new developers that would like to work on BRL-CAD. The ideas range from very hard and math intense to very easy. Each idea links to a page with more details.

You are welcome to scale the scope of the project up or down as needed as the ideas suggested below are merely starting points. There are also several other areas of development that are of high-interest in addition to those below.

BRL-CAD Priorities

Be sure to read up on our application process for getting started with your proposal submission if you have not done so already including our checklist.

Project Categories

Web Development Projects

We have high expectations for web development projects because the developer often does not stick around after development is over. We're not interested in web code, we're interested in people. If you're willing to work on your project long after GSoC is over (i.e., joining the project) and are willing to make a long-term commitment to BRL-CAD, then we absolutely welcome your web development project idea.

Idea Languages Impact Difficulty Contacts
Synchronize Wiki with Docbook: We use Docbook for most of our user documentation but find editing a wiki page much easier to use. Set up a system so the two are always in sync. Depends (likely PHP or Python) HUGE MEDIUM Browder, Yapp
Benchmark Performance Database: BRL-CAD's Benchmark has been used for two decades to compare performance across configurations. Build a database website. Depends (likely PHP or Python) BIG MEDIUM Morrison
Materials Database: Create a Materials Database web site for collecting, managing, and providing programmatic interfaces to material properties. Depends (likely PHP or Python) BIG MEDIUM Morrison, Yapp

NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines) Projects

BRL-CAD has recently implemented raytracing support for NURBS-based boundary representation geometry. It's one of our hot-topic priority focus areas with high impact and high visibility. They are also pretty hard so be careful to have sufficient familiarity and lots of milestones.

Idea Languages Impact Difficulty Contacts
NURBS Intersections: Evaluate the intersection of two NURBS surfaces. You'll get a 3D curve or a point, line segment, or even a plane depending how the surfaces overlap. C/C++ HUGE HARD Davisson, Yapp, Bowman, Rossberg
Plate Mode NURBS raytracing: Imported NURBS geometry often does NOT enclose space (i.e., not solid), so add support for specifying an implicit thickness. C/C++ HUGE HARD Davisson, Morrison, Bowman
NURBS Optimization and Cleanup: We have a fantastic implementation of NURBS evaluation but haven't gone back to clean up or speed it up. Make it purdy. C/C++ BIG MEDIUM Yapp, Bowman, Morrison

Collaborative Projects

BRL-CAD utilizes lots of 3rd party dependencies that requires active maintenance and development. These projects aim to improve those dependencies directly so that they not only benefit BRL-CAD, but help improve other projects also using them.

Idea Languages Impact Difficulty Contacts
STEP Libraries: We took over NIST's STEP Class Library (SCL) project during our development of a STEP importer. SCL has since turned into a larger community collaboration. The code needs cleanup. C/C++ HUGE EASY Gillich, Yapp
NURBS Editing Support: The Ayam project has support for NURBS editing, we do not. Collaborative reuse would be a good thing. C/Tcl BIG MEDIUM Yapp
STEP Viewer: STEP is a common CAD file format supported by just about every major CAD system. Given we have an importer and an interface for displaying geometry, a stand-alone STEP file viewer has some great potential. C/C++ HUGE MEDIUM Yapp

Code Refactoring Projects

BRL-CAD has more than a million lines of code so we have to continually refactor and clean up code for maintainability. Cruft happens. These projects help reduce the complexity and make things better. They're not very hard at all, but exceedingly valuable to our project vitality.

Idea Languages Impact Difficulty Contacts
Code Reduction: BRL-CAD is more than 1M lines of code. Approximately 10% of that is duplication. Help reduce that percentage. C BIG EASY Hinesley, Greenwald, Morrison, Gillich
MGED to Archer Command Migration: Our next-generation editor (Archer) needs to have the same (700+) commands that are in MGED. Help make our next CAD interface awesome. C and Tcl HUGE EASY Hinesley, Yapp, Browder
General Tree Walker: We have a half dozen or more functions that will traverse a geometry hierarchy in different ways. There only needs to be one. C HUGE EASY Greenwald, Yapp, Hinesley, Morrison
Rework of libbu/libbn to not require Tcl: Tcl's C API is used throughout BRL-CAD providing great abstractions, but we want our basic utility and numeric libraries (LIBBU & LIBBN) to stand alone. C HUGE EASY Morrison, Yapp, Greenwald
Consolidate image processing: We have 100+ image processing tools that independently read and write file data. Needs much reuse love. C HUGE EASY Greenwald, Hinesley
Fix Bugs: We take pride in our breadth of functionality and time-tested stability. We still have bugs. Identify some and fix 'em! C DEPENDS EASY Browder, Hinesley, Gillich, Weiss
Mesh library cleanup: BRL-CAD has an extensive n-manifold polygonal mesh library that needs some refactoring, testing, and optimization rework. C HUGE MEDIUM Morrison, Weiss, Browder, Rossberg

Graphical User Interface (GUI) Projects

The primary environment in which users interact with BRL-CAD geometry is the MGED geometry editor. The "next generation" interface for MGED, dubbed Archer, has been under development for some time but there is a lot of functionality that still needs to be migrated and new features needed by MGED, Archer, or both.

Idea Languages Impact Difficulty Contacts
New Cross-Platform 3D Display Manager: BRL-CAD uses display managers for visualizing 3D geometry in a window. We want one that uses a cross-platform toolkit such as Qt + OGRE. C/C++ HUGE MEDIUM Morrison
New Cross-Platform 2D Framebuffer: BRL-CAD uses framebuffers to display 2D imagery. The merits of having a single interface for most platforms is self-evident. C/C++ HUGE EASY Morrison, Yapp
2D Sketch Editor: MGED has a sucky 2D sketch editor written in pure Tcl/Tk. Archer has nothing. Fix the old one or write a new one. Tcl (presently) and/or C HUGE HARD Yapp, Morrison
GUI Integration of Analysis Tools: There are a lot of visualization tools in BRL-CAD, but most aren't integrated with the GUI. Visualizing directly within the GUI would improve usability. C BIG MEDIUM Browder, Rossberg, Gillich
Level of Detail Wireframes: Geometry is drawn with fixed wireframe detail which can screw performance and make shape recognition difficult. Detail needs to adjust based on view size. C HUGE EASY Greenwald, Morrison
BoT Editing: Our unstructured triangle mesh geometry (Bag of Triangles = BoT) is a common import format, but our BoT edit support sucks. We need something better. C HUGE HARD Browder, Greenwald, Bowman
NMG Editing: Our structured polygonal mesh geometry (N-Manifold Geometry = NMG) is a common export format, but our NMG edit support is non-existent. We need something. C HUGE HARD Weiss, Morrison, Rossberg
Visualizing Constructive Solid Geometry (CSG): CSG forms a directed acyclic graph. Tree view widgets show a simple hierarchical representation, but we need something better. C/C++ HUGE EASY Morrison, Browder

Geometry Conversion Projects

When it comes to geometry conversion, STEP and IGES are the priority. STEP is an absurdly complicated format, but we're one of the first open source projects to implement a working importer. IGES is a much older standard, but more time-tested too. Both have a variety of potential high-priority projects associated with the.

Idea Languages Impact Difficulty Contacts
Convert BoT to Pipe: Command line interface to convert facetted fluid/electrical line geometry into BRL-CAD native pipe solids. C/C++/Tcl HUGE MEDIUM Morrison, Anderson
STEP exporter: We have an importer, we need a comprehensive exporter with support for implicit CSG, NURBS, or polygonal mesh geometry. C/C++ HUGE EASY Bowman, Yapp, Morrison
STEP importer improvements: We have an importer, but it's preliminary. Add support for importing hierarchy information, polygonal geometry, and implicit geometry. C/C++ HUGE MEDIUM Bowman, Yapp
IGES import improvements: We have extensive support for the International Geometry Exchange Standard (IGES) with our g-iges and iges-g converters, but they need updating. C HUGE MEDIUM Morrison
Geometry Conversion Library: Probably our biggest open source asset is our extensive collection of importers and exporters. Turn them all into a universal conversion library. C/C++ HUGE EASY Greenwald, Morrison, Rossberg, Hinesley
Voxelize command: Convert geometry into voxel data sets by shooting a grid of rays. The finite element analysis and volumetric rendering folks will love you. C BIG EASY Hinesley, Greenwald, Morrison, Gillich, Rossberg

Geometry Processing Projects

As part of our new GUI development efforts, a lot of code had to be moved out of application space into a library. That library is our geometry editing library, LIBGED. A lot of time, attention, and emphasis is going on there to make sure that all of our core functionality is reusable by applications. More than 100k lines of code have already moved, but there's still a lot more work needed.

Idea Languages Impact Difficulty Contacts
GED Transactions: Migrating functionality from our MGED geometry editor into our LIBGED library provided excellent code reuse, but now we need transactions so that actions can be undone. C HUGE EASY Morrison, Hinesley
Add exec option to search: Our LIBGED library provides a search command very similar to the UNIX find command for scanning through geometry. Implement the -exec option. C HUGE EASY Yapp
Geometry Selection Functionality: Implement a new selection command that lets you temporarily group objects based on spatial, attribute, or geometric properties. C HUGE EASY Hinesley, Morrison
Geometric Constraint Solver: Our LIBPC parametric constraint library is the work-in-progress foundation of being able to validate and describe geometry relationships. C/C++ HUGE HARD Morrison
Space Partitioning for Tessellation: Technically an optimization task, make our geometry converters run an order of magnitude faster by using spatial partitioning during tessellation. C BIG HARD Greenwald, Yapp, Morrison
libsvn within Geometry Database Format: Our Geometry Service project provides comprehensive edit history by using a revision control system. Hook our .g database on the backend ftw. C HUGE HARD Yapp
Overlap tool: Resolving geometric interferences (aka overlaps) is a common geometry editing activity. Design an awesome interface for resolving conflicts. Tcl HUGE EASY Browder, Yapp, Morrison, Greenwald

Rendering & Analysis Projects

Raytracing is at the heart of all that is BRL-CAD. The 'rt' application was the world's first distributed parallel ray tracer, implemented in early 80's, and it's backed by our powerful LIBRT library. We're the best as full path shotlines (shooting all the way through geometry, not just first hit) and can handle crazy big geometry very efficiently, very fast. It's how we perform geometric analysis, generate images, perform simulations, and more.

Idea Languages Impact Difficulty Contacts
Shader Enhancements: We have a functioning custom shader system in BRL-CAD, but there are now folks that specialize and there's lot of room for improvements. C BIG EASY Morrison, Greenwald
Material and Shader Objects: This one is a biggie but easy. Implement new object entities for describing shaders and material properties, use them during ray tracing. C HUGE EASY Morrison
NMG Raytracing Performance Improvement: BRL-CAD's structured mesh geometry (N-Manifold Geometry = NMG) needs some time in a profiler. Malloc during raytracing is bad. C BIG HARD Morrison, Greenwald, Bowman
Generalized abstracted spacial partitioning capability: Need more be said? If you're familiar with BSPs, KD trees, and grid structures, then this one is for you. C HUGE HARD Greenwald, Morrison
High Dynamic Range Support: We don't have displays supporting this yet, but that's never stopped us before. Implement support for images with more than 8-bits per channel. C and/or C++ BIG EASY Greenwald, Yapp
Vector output from raytracing: Huge impact here if you can update one or more of our raytracers to provide vector output instead of raster. Perhaps render directly to PDF or SVG. C and/or C++ HUGE EASY Browder, Rossberg
Analysis Library: There are various tools in BRL-CAD for calculating weights, moments of inertia, and more. They're stand-alone applications. Turn them into a library. C HUGE HARD Yapp, Morrison

Scientific Projects

BRL-CAD has been used to visualize Hubble up in orbit (before it was launched), simulate light transport (multispectral analyses), model Earth's interior layers (education), and much more but there are lots of coding projects that would really help make BRL-CAD more useful for general science a work.

Idea Languages Impact Difficulty Contacts
Astronomical units: We already go "big", but accurately modeling at a galactic scale redefines that notion... C BIG EASY Morrison, Greenwald
Bending light: Think gravity wells and satellite cameras. C BIG MEDIUM Morrison
Celestial mechanics particle system: Simulate solar systems and galaxies. C/C++ BIG MEDIUM Greenwald
Non-vacuum gravity simulator: Simulate falling to earth. C/C++ BIG MEDIUM Browder, Greenwald, Morrison, Yapp
Polarization: We already do multispectral ray tracing, but don't simulate polarization effects. Implement ray splitting and filtering. C BIG HARD Morrison, Rossberg
Density functions: Accurately represent everything from atmosphere to bone. Implement support for parametric density functions for homogenous materials. C BIG HARD Rossberg, Morrison, Davsisson

Networking Projects

BRL-CAD includes a variety of tools that utilize networking. Our LIBPKG networking library predates pervasive TCP/IP availability and is time-tested. As BRL-CAD becomes more of an operation-oriented modular infrastructure, improvements to our networking underpinnings become necessary.

Idea Languages Impact Difficulty Contacts
Package Library Extensions: Our network "package" library is old but solid. As decades tick by, though, some implementation assumptions need revisiting. C BIG EASY Morrison

Other Tool Projects

Some of these project ideas aren't as detailed or elaborate as the ones above, but would be interesting and useful nonetheless. Please discuss with us before proposing one of these ideas.


Do you have an idea of your own? Let us know and maybe we'll like it too. We're very open to new ideas, areas of academic research, industry applications, and any other ways that may help get you hooked on BRL-CAD development. Just remember that BRL-CAD is a solid modeling CAD suite so keep that in mind when scoping your project.


  • Passion for the task being suggested
  • Buy-in from one of the existing developers


BRL-CAD operates under group mentorship. That means you can contact anyone, not just the person assigned to you, for assistance. The mailing list and IRC channel are the preferred communication methods.

  • Christopher Sean Morrison
    • brlcad on
    • Org admin, core dev, open source project lead
  • Erik Greenwald
    • ``Erik on
    • Org admin, core dev
  • Cliff Yapp
    • starseeker on
    • Mentor, core dev
  • Daniel Rossberg
    • d_rossberg on
    • Mentor, core dev, math expert
  • Tom Browder
    • brlcad-devel maling list
    • Mentor, analysis, code support
  • Brandon Hinesley
    • bhinesley on
    • Mentor, former GSoC student
  • Mike Gillich
    • brlcad-devel mailing list
    • Mentor, tester, analysis
  • Ed Davisson
    • brlcad-devel mailing list
    • Part-time mentor, Math guru extraordinaire
  • Keith Bowman
    • brlcad-devel mailing list
    • Backup mentor, core dev, NURBS guru
  • Richard Weiss
    • brlcad-devel mailing list
    • Backup mentor, NMG info, code support
  • Dave Loman
    • dloman on
    • Backup mentor, expert modeler
  • Robert Anderson
    • brlcad-devel maling list
    • Mentor, analysis, code support