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Who needs Windows? In this special spotlight on geotechnical software Ground Engineering presents a round-up of innovations and applications in the market place.

Software manufacturers are still keeping to the theme of developing popular software packages to be compatible with Windows, giving them a more user-friendly front end. Some users are concerned that this is being driven more by hardware and software procurers, and the need to be compatible with the more popular operating systems, rather than something geotechnical engineers are pushing for.

An interesting development has been the move to make information more freely available on the Internet. There is an ever-increasing list of useful sites that allow on line ordering of geospatial data including satellite imagery and digital maps, but the first stop should still be the excellent Geotechnical & Geoenvironmental Software Directory, on the Internet at http://www.lbmpcug.co.uk/~bedrock/gsd/

Tim Spink of Mott MacDonald, the service's creator, regularly updates the page. In the last year, a further 135 packages have been added to the ever-expanding list which now stands at 867; and 532 suppliers of software are listed too. The site can also be accessed via the AGS web site (http://www.ags.org.uk), which serves as a useful start point for information searches not only for software but publications and other useful Internet links.

KeySeePT was launched on 1 January by software house Key Systems, perhaps better known for its HoleBase suite (now launched as HoleBaseII). KeySeePT is a Windows-based package designed to evaluate test results from static cone penetration testing and produce reports for investigations. Interpretation is carried out using the two common methods, Robertson-Campanella and Schmertmann-Meigh.

Data can be presented in a variety of displays on screen and results can be compiled into a various customisable formats. Most data formats can be used, including AGS, but the software can be set up to process any file format that is not included. Key Systems says that virtually any ASCII data files can be read.

The annually updated HoleBase II suite now has a data entry and posting module, which allows unlimited numbers of network users to simultaneously enter data and then post it to existing HoleBase projects. Only one licence is needed for the add-on package and as it does not use the graphics and special features of the main program, it can be run on lower specification machines. The suite also offers new features for trial pit logging, which Key Systems product manager Mike Rothery says is proving popular with customers, whose feedback is received through the user forum on the company's web site.

A further development this year is that Sage Engineering is now responsible for the development of HoleBase II in the Pacific Rim, as well as providing support and training to customers. Rothery says this is a reaction to increasing demand in the region.

Sage, which markets CRISP and PROFILE, also carries out offshore geotechnical investigations.

'Last year we identified that our old site investigation program was causing a significant bottleneck. We considered developing our own system or replacing it with one of the many commercial packages on the market,' says Sage project engineer Torsten Strangaard. The company opted for HoleBase II and has subsequently taken on its Pacific Rim marketing - a fairly convincing testimonial.

Rothery adds that Key Systems is negotiating a deal with a Lithuanian company to act in a similar role for the Eastern European market.

Mapping Software developer Erdas has just released the newest version of IMAGINE VirtualGIS, its 3D visualisation software suite for Windows and Unix. The program provides a tool for interpreting aerial photography, satellite imagery and 3D maps, allowing users to navigate through and analyse geographic data in real time using its Virtual World Editor. There are three versions: Essentials, Advantage and Professional.

This latest release features a new virtual roaming and viewshed analysis tool. Virtual roaming allows the user to move smoothly through the data when using large data sets and the viewshed tool enables single and multiple observer points to be defined.

The software has been used on a joint research project for the Highways Agency by Advanced Construction Technology at the University of Reading and WS Atkins to investigate new highway development techniques, including optimal route selection and potential land take.

Card Geotechnics' Methane Ingress Dispersion Analysis Software was developed for gas protection systems under floor slabs. It determines the surface gas emission and the dispersion efficiency for a given configuration of passive ventilation measures.

The in-house software is based on BS5925, and employs calculations within the standard to help design ventilation under floor slabs built on land emitting gas. Raw data such as gas concentration and flow can be fed into the program and interpreted to allow various ventilation systems to be assessed.

One of the original intentions was to market the software commercially, and although this is still the intention, Card Geotechnics associate director Ian Marychurch says that the service has proved so popular that any thoughts of a commercial launch has had to be put to one side for the moment. And the company is also developing a gas emission risk assessment program based on CIRIA 152.

Scott Wilson has just launched gINT for Windows version 4. The integrated database and material description processor is designed specifically for the site investigation profession and allows investigation data, including borehole logs and test results, to be analysed and displayed graphically on screen.

This latest version of the original DOS program now has a more user- friendly graphical interface and is Microsoft Access compatible, which allows data access outside the main program. The Windows development also means that report templates are now more flexible.

Version 2.2 of Computer and Design Services' CADS PWS piled wall and cofferdam analysis and design software package was released at the end of last year, taking on board suggestions from users of the original version.

'We compile a wish-list from customer feedback and periodically review the software with this in mind,' says CAD's Ian Chambers.

The main advance this time is the inclusion of deflection calculations in the Windows-based program. Of the three modules available, two have the most relevance to geotechnical engineers.

Module 1 is for stability analysis of embedded, propped and cantilever walls to determine pile length, factor of safety, moments and shears for section design. Module 2 is for design of for steel sheet pile walls, steel king pile walls and reinforced concrete bored pile and diaphragm walls.

Users can input soil data or use predefined parameters from the built- in soils library, which can then be customised for individual sites. The program supports all current factor of safety calculations for piled walls against soil failure, which allows different methods to be compared. Pressures, moments, shears and factors of safety are calculated at all stages and results reported in tables or graphs.

Windows versions of Geosolve's WALLAP and SLOPE packages are still under development, but founder Daniel Borin says that the original plan to launch the new version next year is still in place. Both programs have been slightly updated in the meantime. WALLAP now has more advanced on-screen viewing of data and SLOPE now has on-line help.

GeoDasy, AF Howland's geotechnical database system, is also being developed as a Windows package. The program handles site investigation and laboratory data and can be used to produce reports.

It can be bought off the shelf and then customised to suit users' individual needs and has been developed over the last 15 years with London Docklands Development Corporation. LDDC's version now includes facilities for handling chemical and environmental data. Alan Howland adds that while the program has developed with the UK market in mind, the package has been sold overseas, recently to diamond company DeBeers.

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