Image Courtesy of Softree
Softree Optimal ingests laser scanning, soil composition and the cost of cutting and filling dirt in various topographies and soil types to compute the path of least resistance (shown in red) for infrastructure projects such as roads, railways and pipelines.

A new corridor-based, infrastructure-alignment software product aims to automate optimal vertical alignment work by using topography data to compute the path of least resistance.

Developed in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, Softree Optimal, created by Softree Technical Systems Inc., Vancouver, B.C., finds the lowest-cost vertical alignment for infrastructure projects, such as roads and pipelines. Its owner claims the software saves at least 10% on earthwork costs by removing the once required guesswork.

"An engineer would try an alignment, measuring out the material being cut, filled, moved, and then would try another path," says Craig Speirs, Softree president, who adds that it is the first software to automate this process. "It takes the trial and error out."

Softree does all the trial and error on its own by running a mathematical model called "mixed integer linear programming," a deterministic method for optimization. Users say it is a big deal not to have to do manual calculations.

"It's user-friendly, and it's fast," says Tyler Dychko, a design and crafting technician at the Manitoba East Side Road Authority who beta-tested the program for nearly a year and continues to use it today. For short roads, he inputs laser-scan and other data, such as soil composition; Softree recommends vertical alignments in a few minutes. For longer stretches—20-plus miles—the software takes a few hours to compute the best route, he says.

"It's like a spell-checker in a document," says Speirs. Once Softree makes its changes, engineers can decide how close to adhere to the suggested route.

Softree recently joined Autodesk's Developer Network, and Speirs says it likely will include interfaces to all major civil design packages in the future. The prices vary per project, but Speirs would not give a quote. His next goals are automating horizontal alignment and getting the service in the cloud.