Not Pie in the Sky Software

Pie in the Sky

If you’ve been following this blog, you will notice a standard theme running through much of what I write:

  • I like high performing software, but I like simplicity as well.
  • I like software that does the work of several applications with an easy-to-use interface that is intuitive and a snap to learn.
  • I like software that saves time and helps engineers reach new levels of productivity. (Why not? They are a hard working bunch.)

We have already delivered a solid product in the form of GeoHECRAS. But, there is more to come, my friends, so much more!! [Thunderclap in the distance…]

The Lure of the Self-Driving Car

What is the appeal of a self-driving car? Could it be that it provides the ultimate driving experience without the stress of managing traffic, bad drivers, and all the rest? A reliable self-driving car allows the driver and passengers to relax, enjoy the scenery outside the window, participate in conversation without distraction, and enjoy the ride at an entirely different level.

self-driving-car

Like the self-driving car that takes you from point A to point B, but also expertly manages the road, software can march in this direction as well. Wouldn’t it be nice if the engineer was also free of the laborious grunt work associated with setting up engineering models and allowed to work at the highest, most conceptual level?

Who is Minding the Software?

Most engineering software today is still what I would call “high maintenance.” In order to run a hydraulic analysis, the user needs to know the limits and constraints of the software. The engineer needs to check and recheck that all elements of the model are correct and in place. It is typically a lengthy, intensely laborious process that puts the burden on the engineer to make sure all inputs are consistent with one another.

Your Software as Skilled, Indispensable Research Assistant

But what if software was different? What if the engineer was only tasked with conceptual challenges as the software worked in the background, managing data sources and translating where necessary, updating rote tasks and alerting the user of critical details? The next generation of our software will make building engineering models almost effortless for the user.

In its present form, our GeoHECRAS software works like a “data-wrapper” for many different file types such as CAD and ArcGIS files. But, in the future, this software will be even more powerful and intuitive and will have the capability to extract key information from and work with an even greater variety of raw data whether it is CAD-based, GIS-based, LIDAR, survey data or aerial maps. The software will analyze the file and get the information it needs automatically and then intelligently build the hydraulic model with minimal data manipulation and minimal burden on the user.

Manning’s Roughness Coefficient in the Blink of an Eye

For example, an upcoming version will be able to use aerial imagery to identify the Manning’s Roughness subareas based upon computer determined land use areas and then map this data to the HEC-RAS model automatically. The overbank areas will be automatically subdivided into agricultural, forested, roadways, residential with appropriate Manning’s values. The software works in the background, shadowing the engineer like a reliable and discrete assistant. If the engineer moves the cross-section, the software automatically recuts the cross-section geometry, adjusts flow lengths and moves bank stations. The software learns from the engineer to improve its automation. But it also gives the engineer the ability to override its automation–kind of like correcting a self-driving car. This form of “teamwork” between engineer and software engine is our ideal.

Automated Stormwater Analysis

From only raw data, this software will automate hydrology in stormwater and drainage analyses and will figure out drainage areas, time of concentrations, as well as runoffs for different storm events. It will perform the stormwater analysis and size the pipes automatically, assisting in locating storm drain inlets and manholes where necessary. This software is capable of learning what an engineer is doing and incorporating this artificial intelligence and user expertise right into its knowledge base. The engineer becomes a kind of “master of the Universe” in a video-game like 2D and 3D interactive environment. The engineer can easily cut, move, stretch and manipulate structures and other features, making adjustments with simple mouse clicks.

Enhanced Productivity in the Cloud

This software can increase productivity and output exponentially by running computations on a server farm in the cloud. Running multiple hydraulic computations, the software provides a variety of scenarios for project analysis and cost estimating. With 3D CAD drawings in hand, engineers can experiment with and visualize different designs with minimal input. Will this modification in abutment slope make a less costly bridge structure? What are the economic ramifications of a steel versus concrete bridge? How will a particular scenario affect materials, labor and construction costs? The engineer will have access to more information and analysis which will ultimately lead to more informed decision-making and greater cost savings for all stakeholders.

Powerful, Intuitive Applications with a Twist

Our software needs to be ambitious. The civil engineering community and the issues associated with today’s complex water infrastructure demands it. We have already made strides through our GeoHECRAS software in bringing together into one application the work of several separate “silos” or disciplines. But, I have a vision for software that with the aptitude and intuition of a reliable engineering assistant that does even more. With ease and learned intelligence, and minimal input or data manipulation by the end user, the software will generate multiple hydraulic analyses for multiple different scenarios, using the computational power of the cloud as necessary, and in so doing will increase the engineer’s productivity ten-fold. This is my vision and it’s not a “Pie in the Sky.”

 

About the Author Chris Maeder

Chris Maeder

Chris is an experienced civil engineering and software technology leader, with over 30 years industry experience. With proven expertise in global software development, he has built engineering teams that adapt quickly, focus on what’s important and, most importantly, deliver. He is a licensed professional civil engineer with extensive experience in water resource engineering. He has performed and supervised engineering projects in urban stormwater drainage, transportation and roadway drainage, storm sewer design, detention pond design, stormwater quality, green infrastructure, watershed management planning, wastewater sewers, water distribution networks, pump stations, FEMA flood studies, bridge and culvert design, bridge scour and armoring, dam failure analysis, seepage and groundwater modeling, and environmental permits.