In Review: Visual Survey by CAiCE

August 22, 2000
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State-of-the-ary survey CADD software.

CAiCE Software Corporation

410 Ware Blvd., Suite 1200

Tampa, FL 33619

800/452-2423 (sales)

800/793-0692 (technical support)

E-mail: caice@caice.com

Website: www.caice.com

When I approach a survey site, I try to envision how the data will be manipulated by CADD software. I am a young surveyor trained in "old school" methods. I was blown away the first time I used a total station. I enjoy seeing the data collector perform functions I learned to do longhand. Upon downloading this data into a survey data processing reduction program, I prepared it to be used in CADD programs. Eventually, these CADD programs evolved into pseudo survey-friendly programs. Still, there were always functions and routines these programs lacked, such as allowing alphanumeric and feature codes to be associated to the survey data.

I have seen the future of survey CADD software, and it is called "CAiCE." I sat down and used Visual Survey to import, view and edit my data. After three days, the only thing I did not like was the hardware lock.

Project Setup

CAiCE's Visual Survey is a Windows-driven program with fully functional pull-down menus. Customizable toolbars help users follow the tutorial program as well as their own applications. The tutorial files are included with the installation of the software. During project creation, a fully loaded geodetic library is readily available to incorporate with the project database. Other features, such as units, coordinate state plane and UTM zones, project elevations, horizontal and vertical datums, coordinate labeling and report formatting, are available as well. All of these can be edited any time during a project's life. The data can be stored in the user's choice of directory. I did not use the software in a network environment, although it is capable of being run from a server.

Data Input/Download

Points are easily entered by several methods. Raw survey data for most formats, including TDS, can be imported directly from the field for processing in a Least Squares processor. Direct links are provided to several data collectors. User-defined tolerances and standard error constants can all be edited. Corrections for curvature are also available. The most easy-to-use method to read reduced data into the database is the "Flexible File Format" utility. A seemingly endless amount of options present themselves here, including the loading of line strings (which CAiCE calls chains). Data brought into the CAiCE database are maintained in a geodetic environment and not treated just as a CADD drawing. This concept took a few moments to totally appreciate. The store/edit dialog boxes allow access to all aspects of point and survey chain data. This includes feature codes and attributes, which are becoming necessary with GIS/LIS applications. I used the Flexible File Format utility with data extensions TXT, ACS and ESU to download data files. I found this utility easy to use and accurate with the data selected.

Figure 1. Visual Survey's Flexible File formatting capabilities allow the user to read and write ASCII data in any format.

Data Management

My favorite feature here is the report log. Prior to ending each session, the user can access a project history of that current session. This is managed in a text window that also serves as a text editor and can be toggled on and off. It stores user information, time, date and all actions in that session. Working in an office with several users, I constantly hear: "I didn't do that," or "It was that way when I opened it." This gives the manager or supervisor the ability to track usage of a project. The only drawback is that this portion of the database is stored in memory and is cleared at project closeout. However, since it is an editor, the report log files can be printed and stored in the project paper file. There seems to be no limit to the number of projects that can be loaded.

Another feature is the use of segments, which are like sub-folders to the project. Data can be loaded from the segments in many different formats including ASCII-type data. I could read and write files both in DGN and DWG format. CAiCE also offers an add-on product called Visual CADLinks that lets you link Visual Survey to the CAD system of your choice.

Figure 2. Interactive survey point and chain editing capabilities.

Viewing and Editing

Every element of the database can be viewed in 3-D. The display settings controlling the attributes to be shown or labeled can be selected during the viewing process. When data is input, the user has many options available for editing. Survey "chains" are strings of 3-D data that receive attribute information during input, such as feature codes that control the color, line style, symbology of the points, and chains. Chain information can be sorted and viewed by simple selection of a specific chain name through the edit dialog box. The screen has various selections to view data. Multiple view windows can be created to show different perspectives simultaneously. I was able to clear the screen and modify the settings to customize the view. Upon import, data can be viewed and displayed with various colors at the click of a button.

Digital Terrain Models (DTMs)

I was able to produce a digital terrain model for a 5-mile road corridor I was working on. I compared this to a DTM I ran with Land Development Desktop (Autodesk, San Raphael, Calif.). Although the results were similar, the construction of the DTM database and the computation of contours seemed to go faster in CAiCE. I have a 500 MHz machine, and it produced a DTM containing 6,500 points over a 100-foot by 5-mile area in less than two seconds.

Data from several sources can be loaded into the DTM database. Multiple DTM databases can be created and stored within the project. 3-D survey chains are loaded as breaklines. Points controlled by attribute can be loaded into the DTM database. If the survey chains have spline curve attributes, the breakline made from those chains are stored as curved breaklines.

A feature that CAiCE offers (one that I feel will be needed more and more by surveyors) is the ability to view the DTM in 3-D. At the click of a button, I was able to view the area of DTM and then pan along it in 3-D using the shading techniques and the freehand drive-through viewing contours. The shots can be edited by simply clicking on the line of the triangle of the DTM. All the elements of the DTM can be edited in 2-D or 3-D views.

A by-product of the DTM is the cross section feature, which is similar to Trimble's Roadlink (Trimble Navigation Ltd., Sunnyvale, Calif.). The main difference is that CAiCE's cross section feature is also a functional design tool. It has libraries from departments of transportation across the country available with various curb and median types, side lopes, etc. It also has a "drivethrough along chain feature" that allows the user to travel along as if driving the road. Stations are plotted to the status bar and interactive editing can be performed on-the-fly.

Figure 3. Multiple screen viewing allows easy error checking and editing in a 3-D world.

Additional Features

In our office, we have to produce presentations that look like GIS/LIS and also maintain survey grade. I was partial to an imaging format in the view menu, where I was able to view COGO information and then overlay a background image. CAiCE includes a complete image library allowing any type of background file to be loaded. I overlaid a digital orthophoto onto a GLO (General Land Office) section I had written a right of way for, and was able to plot it as a visual representation for the client. This feature gives the surveyor a professional presentation tool. Another valuable feature of Visual Survey is a legal writer that performs similar to Legal Aid.

Customization

A major advantage to CAiCE is its ability to allow organizations to customize the system to meet unique standards and practices through various types of settings, tables, libraries and macros. CAiCE Software includes Microsoft Visual Basic (VBA) as a macro development language. By combining VBA with user-accessible functions for database access, graphical interaction and geometric computations, macros can be developed that completely customize CAiCE to the needs of the organization. CAiCE tells me that they can write specific templates for any user's need, as well as customize any of their applications.

Figure 4. Visual Survey Splash Splash screen graphic.

Technical Support

CAiCE offers phone support from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST. I called the toll-free support line and was immediately connected with a technical person. Through online support, technicians were able to view and access my drawing with me over the Web. CAiCE has a service website for its client base that includes a FAQ knowledge base and downloads for maintenance upgrades and other resources. We were able to work through questions online with very little down time. I downloaded a "tugboat," which is a workflow wizard that led me through the survey process. You can access the Internet from within CAiCE. The Web access is in the program-no separate web browser needed.

Summary

CAiCE is on its way. In an AutoCAD world, it is the first program in which I didn't feel lost. I used it on one complete project from importing points, sorting and generating DTMs to reviewing contours and performing earthwork analysis. It did not crash once even though the file size of the database was more than three meg. During the time I spent using Visual Survey, I felt that the day when survey and engineering software co-exist in a CAD program is drawing nearer. This concept excites me.

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