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U.S. Army Research Lab Opens BRL-CAD Source 209

brlcad writes "After 20 years of active development under a proprietary government license agreement, the BRL-CAD solid modeling suite has just been released as Open Source software. BRL-CAD is one of the many legacies of the late Michael Muuss, author of ping. The package began on the PDP-11 and VAX 11/780--before the emergence of ANSI/ISO C language standards--and boasts one of the first parallel Ray tracers in existence. Today BRL-CAD has over 750,000 lines of source code. It incorporates both 3D modeling and rendering capabilities, and supports an API for user-developed geometric analysis applications. It continues to be developed and maintained by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and its partners. Various portions of the package are distributed under the GPL, LGPL, GFDL, and BSD licenses."
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U.S. Army Research Lab Opens BRL-CAD Source

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  • This looks like a very advanced package. I wonder how it'll hold up to standards such a s POVRay? (pirst fsot?)
    • Not as advanced as MY package, it's ribbed for EVERYTHING's pleasure.

      Ben 'Jammin

    • Think of a serious CAD package with things like Finite Element Analysis plugins. The rendering tool is just one of numerous plugins for this package.

      Think somewhere in the class of Solidworks and ProE- the DoD uses this tool to run simulations of survivability on models of our armor and other people's.
  • That headline was way over my head.
  • by BJZQ8 ( 644168 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @02:42PM (#11298046) Homepage Journal
    In a world dominated by things like UniGraphics, AutoCAD, and Pro/Engineer, it will be nice to have a professional-level CAD package available under a less-restrictive license...But I don't see it challenging the established niches of those previous packages for awhile. It's the "if it's cheap, it must not be good" mentality that really does apply to CAD software...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      It's the "if it's cheap, it must not be good" mentality that really does apply to CAD software...

      All it takes is one company to challenge that. If it saves them money it becomes a competitive advantage, and other companies will either jump on the bandwagon, develop something better, or die off.
    • You left out Solidworks.
      I am looking forward to seeing what this can do.
      If it can not export STL or IGES it is not going to catch on
    • To paraphrase:
      "In a world dominated by things like Microsoft and Apple, I don't see Linux challenging the established niches of those previous packages for a while."
    • by UniverseIsADoughnut ( 170909 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @02:55PM (#11298135)
      I see it can't export to pro/e so thats not very good.

      Yeah, cheap CAD Doesn't tend to mean much, also you are only as good as your file support.

      AutoCAD doesn't belong here, it's not a solid modeler, yeah they are trying to extend it, but thats just a level of evil on top of the already evil that is auto cad.

      Solidworks is one you left out, and they did change things, they came out with a CAD program for 5 grand that was up there with Pro E, but they tossed a lot of features that most never need, and ditched multi-platform which tends to be overrated for something like this. And do to this and their sudden eating of PTCs market PTC cut the price on pro/e 2001 and wildfire to 5 grand. So things are changing some. 33 Grand for one seat of a CAD program has finally become a thing of the past.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I see it can't export to pro/e so thats not very good.

        From the overview:

        - An assortment of geometric converters to convert to and/or from other geometry formats, including Euclid, ACAD, AutoCAD DXF, TANKILL, Wavefront OBJ, Pro/ENGINEER, JACK (the human factors model for doing workload/usability studies), Viewpoint Data Lab, NASTRAN, Digital Equipment's Object File Format (OFF), Virtual Reality Mark-up Language (VRML), Stereo Lithography (STL), Cyberware Digitizer data, and FASTGEN4.

        Have an agenda
      • 33 Grand for one seat of a CAD program has finally become a thing of the past.

        Looked at DS CATIA V5 pricing lately? :)
      • This isn't just CAD! It's used for ballistic testing. i.e. A tank gets hit with a shell, how does the energy transfer throughout the tank and how can we design it better to not blow up.
        • It's just that BRL-CAD's geared for high-speed events as well as low-speed events in it's FEA work.

          SolidWorks and ProE might be able to deal with it barely since they do FEA and other stuff like BRL-CAD does...
      • I see it can't export to pro/e so thats not very good.

        It probably doesn't have a .nyet connector either, so why not trash one of the world's most competent modelling packages based on that?

        Here's why:

        In keeping with the UNIX philosophy of developing independent tools to perform single, specific tasks and then linking the tools together in a package, BRL-CAD is basically a collection of libraries, tools, and utilities that work together to create, raytrace, and interrogate geometry and manipulate files an

        • older versions will run on WinNT and Win98SE but they're bright enough to mark WinME as "not suitable for production use").

          If you actually talk to their support people, they'll tell you Win98SE isn't suitable either, though the problem is actually with FAT. I experienced some serious file corruption problems that led to our whole company upgrading to W2k, and more importantly NTFS.

          If they'd chosen a Unix ecosystem as a base, doing Win32 and Carbon/Aqua as derivatives would have been easy. Back-porting f
    • "It's the "if it's cheap, it must not be good" mentality that really does apply to CAD software..."

      No problem. I'd be happy to sell this software for $3000 per copy.
    • The DoD's been using this little package for some time as their modeling and engineering tool for the Ballistics Resarch Lab that is attached to the Aberdeen Proving Ground. This is the bunch tasked with improving our armored vehicles and improving our ammo to trash our opponents' vehcicles much more easily. BRL-CAD is the tool that they use to accomplish the modeling and simulation portions of this task.

      It's on a par with SolidWorks and ProE and it's battle proven as it were. Like most Government p
  • OSX Screenshots (Score:3, Interesting)

    by theoneknuckles ( 608389 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @02:44PM (#11298056)
    Is it me or are the screenshots showing this puppy running on Mac OSX?
    • Yep, it runs on OS X.
    • Yep.

      Apple's been inheriting SGI and Sun workstation customers at a pretty good clip over the last couple of years ;-)


      • Apple's been inheriting SGI and Sun workstation customers at a pretty good clip over the last couple of years ;-)

        Nowhere near as much as Linux has. OS X doesn't make a good substitute for a UNIX workstation (I tried to make it work): they have non-standard administrative interfaces and their X11 server isn't very good and poorly integrated with the desktop.
    • It's running inside X11 on OS X.

      But yes, it's running on OS X.

    • Re:OSX Screenshots (Score:5, Informative)

      by morrison ( 40043 ) * on Saturday January 08, 2005 @05:36PM (#11299394) Homepage
      Indeed it is running on Mac OS X. It's ran on OS X since the early Public Beta days -- the port took me much less time than it's taking me to write this comment.

      BRL-CAD has a long history of running on many systems that range from your average desktop running Linux to Cray supercomputers fully taking advantage of the CPU resources on any of them. Support is presently actively maintained for Mac OS X, Linux, IRIX, and Solaris (*BSD usually just works). Support for Windows is there too, though it's only recently been a focus of development.

      Some legacy platforms include the DEC VAX-11 running 4.3 BSD, DECStations running ULTRIX, SGI 4Ds running various versions of IRIX, Sun-3 and Sun-4 Sparcs running SunOS, the Cray 1, X-MP and Y-MP running UNICOS, the Cray 2, DEC Alpha AXP running OSF/1, the Apple MAC II running A/UX, iPSC/860 Hypercube running NX/2, Alliant FX/8, Alliant FX/2800, Gould SEL, PowerNode, the Gould NP1, NeXT, HPPA 9000/700 running HPUX, the Ardent/Stardent, the Encore Multi-Max, and much more...

      It's also been compiled on many versions of Linux, BSD, AIX, IRIX, Solaris over the years. Keep in mind just how old the project has been actively maintained. Two decades of supporting the latest and greatest is a lot of varied hardware and operating systems.
    • Looks like it. Mac OS X running Apple's X11 software, I believe.
  • by KiloByte ( 825081 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @02:45PM (#11298063)
    It's not really about the package in question. The important thing here is, if the US Army learns that GPLing their code can be beneficial for them, we can get a very powerful ally.

    Besides, that piece of software was developed for your (and even a bit of my) money anyway...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The important thing here is, if the US Army learns that GPLing their code can be beneficial for them, we can get a very powerful ally.

      Especially when it comes to "enforcing" the GPL.
    • by aixou ( 756713 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @02:54PM (#11298132)
      I think it'd be better if the Air Force was on our side. Just call up someone high on the inside " We're gonna need an unmanned airstrike at 122.125 west 47.681 north. Yeah, it's Fallujah."
      • That's one nice joke, but this beeing /. I can nitpick all i want, and might even be moded up for it.
        So I have to point out that the "official" address is actually : 122.13013W x 47.64483N
        Your coords point to something that looks like an empty field near residential housing a few KM North.
        You wouldn't want the Air Force to hit the wrong target. []

        P.S. I had to lookup the coords using NASA's excellent Open Source WorldWind [].
        Did you just happen to have the coordinates written on a post-it or something ? :)

        • I did a google search for the Redmond coordinates. I live somewhat close to Redmond (under 200 miles), and I'm pretty familiar with Washington state coords, but I wanted to be semi exact. I suppose I could've looked up the Microsoft campus coordinates, but I figured being within a tenth or so was good enough.
          I'll check out WorldWind... sounds like a cool program. No Linux or OS X bins though eh?
    • Vader: If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.
    • we can get a very powerful ally

      Because, otherwise the US Army is not a very powerful ally? People can split all the hairs they want about what the army is called to do, but they do it at the behest of elected officials. As an institution, though, you'll never have a better "ally" than the US military.

      What the comment really does is illustrate the cultural distance between the military and the techno/edu/info people of the world. There is no them-us dynamic here folks: them IS us, and a lot of those mi
      • Compared with the Commonwealth forces, they generally suck on a man-for-man basis and only ever win on total firepower rather than skill or good tactics. There are specific exceptions to this, but in general the US wins by being the biggest gorilla on the field, not by being the smartest, fastest or most skilled.

        There are also other forces (some isolated Europeans, forex) who rate at least as well as Commonwealth troops, and specials like the Ghurkas who on a man-for-man basis just ace any conventional mil
    • "The important thing here is, if the US Army learns that GPLing their code can be beneficial for them, we can get a very powerful ally."

      You're assuming that the community would accept such an ally. Consider the outcry you hear every time when this group of "father rapers" turns out to be using a piece of FOSS software. "We should modify the license to specifically ban the military from using our app!"
      • Consider the outcry you hear every time when this group of "father rapers" turns out to be using a piece of FOSS software. "We should modify the license to specifically ban the military from using our app!"

        Yeah, that's a really good point. I'm really sick of all the talk about "father rapers" in the open source community. It happens so often, it's pretty much all you read about. "Father rapers this," "father rapers that". It's almost as if there is nothing else people want to talk about.

      • Go read Goerge Orwell's Animal Farm. All you really need to know about politics. High-falutin' principles that don't survive when the rubber meets the road are dangerous.

        Put a greenie's house in the path of a devastating bushfire, then hand him/her a fuelled and sharpened chainsaw and stand back. Presently, you'll see whether (s)he's bright enough to understand that some principles don't scale.

        I don't mean to imply that morality is entirely relative - that's another assertion doomed to fail under load - b
    • "Fluid flow computing company goes open []-source []"

      = 9J =

  • Licensing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BossMC ( 696762 )
    Behold the versatility of the GPL, LGPL, GFDL, and BSD quadra-license! With the viral nature of the GPL, and the total anarchy of the BSDL, it will be unstoppable!

    But really, how come licensing comes to this? Is it from the authors placing more value on different portions of the code, or is it a condition posed by contributors, or what? I am not even barely a lawyer, and all of my personal code is of such little value that charging money or placing much in the way of conditions would be criminal.

    I kind of
    • Re:Licensing (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Heisenbug ( 122836 )
      I kind of see multi-licensing as having a different insurance policy for each fender on your car.

      With 20 years of active development, it's probably more like having different insurance policies for each vehicle in your car show.
    • Different portions of the package are intended for use in different ways. It doesn't make much sense to license a work based on content, rather than on functionality, under the (L)GPL; this is the point of the GFDL. The software freedoms don't really make sense for the documentation.

      The GPL and LGPL differ essentially on whether the thing as a whole is intended to be used by itself or plugged into arbitrary other programs. The BSD license is preferrable for things where the code encourages free standards,
      • I actually once heard about a bunch of cars with frozen pipes. Granted, it was japanese cars bound for California, and they were frozen by mistake (they were transported as bulk cargo on a ship with refrigiated cargoholds) during a cooling plant test. But the end result was a lot of cars with pipes (and in a few cases engines) split open by the water freezing and expanding.
        • Uhh, that's what freeze plugs in the block are for. They are meant to be the weakest link and give way to expansion so that the block can never crack. They've been in cars for probably more than 50 years now.
          • I know, but one a number of the cars, that was not enough! Several engineblocks were split down the middle. And the conditions meant that others could not be inspected before the cars had been driven out of the hold (probably causing some minor damage from runnig without coolant). That's the story as I've been told it by my late uncle who was there (though not in charge of the circus).
  • by freelunch ( 258011 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @02:51PM (#11298110)
    Back in the day, I requested a copy around '88. The only format available then was 9 track tape. I think I had to send a real letter requesting it and explaining my intent (curiosity, mostly).

    After waiting many weeks, I sent Michael Muuss an email flaming a little (very young and cocky) and asking "Hey, where's my tape!?". I ran across a print out of that email and his reply when I was moving a few years back. He explained that he had to make the tapes himself, etc.

    With much pain, I translated the tape to a QIC cartridge and built it on our Sun gear (I was working at an imaging company). It was a large build.

    Their 3D editor was pretty neat for the day and I did a little with the ray tracer. The package had, no kidding, a lot of heavy duty ballastic tools that I didn't care about.. That was about it.

    But the print out of Muuss' email is a keeper.
    • I did the same about ten years ago. I waited a few months and then a huge box arrived with several telephone book sized manuals.

      I am sitting here with the box now, and I see a letter signed by Mike Muuss (xeroxed) revealing the secret password to decrypt the tar files with crypt. I guess now since the contents of these files are now available, there is no harm in me revealing that the password was "alphabeta".
    • I downloaded it around 2000.

      I'd just graduated from college and was surfing around trying the various CAD programs for Linux. It compiled easily enough on my old Debian Potato system.

      I never really used it for anything though. I ran through the tutorial, drafted the 3-d mug, and that was about it. About that time I picked up a copy of TurboCAD Solid Modeler (for Windows) and TurboCAD has been my home drafting package since.

      BRL-CAD probably needs a lot of work on the UI. Functionally, the program is quite

  • by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @02:54PM (#11298128)
    Some of you may not realize this, but the Federal government supports F/OSS []. Several state governments (I know Texas does for certain) have passed mandates and recommendations that encourage and/or require state agencies to consider F/OSS solutions over proprietary solutions.

    Unfortunately, much of this information is squelched by the press, since the press has shown to be woefully ignorant of F/OSS concepts. I would imagine many state and Federal agencies routinely violate rules requiring them to review F/OSS software due to ignorance. I've identified several instances of such a failure in the community college district where I work: Purchases and bids for proprietary software are routinely approved, and when I ask for a list of F/OSS alternatives that were considered, I'm greeted with a blank stare.

    The bottom line is that F/OSS has made inroads, but without oversight from the F/OSS community, many of these initiatives are simply ignored and routinely violated.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You couldn't be more wrong. Several states and the federal government have long held that competitive bidding on contracts, including those to supply software, are the ideal in order to save tax payers money. If you've ever been involved with procurement, you'd know that most places have policies AGAINST single-source suppliers. ALL software developed using federal funds is public domain with the exception of those classified for national security reasons. This is not new and is not a result of the FOSS
    • Not many contractors really want to sign up for those government contracts. Sure they have big numbers associated with them, but there is usually so much paperwork associated with them that no one wants to deal with it. The companies that are willing to sign up for those contracts are few and far between. Since the playing field is so limited, it doesn't take many Microsoft Whores to tilt the buying decisions in that direction for a lot of government contract work. The Government just assumes that for its m
    • It's not just FOSS.

      When I was in the 1973rd Com Group (AF), there was a mandate/reg that said any project which required a greater than 30% change in source code was to be redone in Ada.

      The civilians in our shop where clueless with Ada and only passable with COBOL. When one of the ladies was sent back from Ada training due to her complete lack of programing skill, Ada was blacklisted by the department heads.

      From then on all projects that required more than 30% change were divided into smaller project

      • They scrapped that thinking about 8 years ago. Now, it's whatever you can do to get the job done. C and C++ are well-liked for a lot of things.

        Also, DoD has mandated that open source options be considered as much as possible for everything that is done. Ada is pretty much dead unless you come across some OLD hardware. It's good that they (DoD) finally realized it was stupid to stick with one language as much as possible. They also opened up almost everything to private contractors, and told them tha
    • My woman's been programming for our county for the last year, replacing some recording software. What's interesting is how much trouble it is to convince people that it's okay to replace what they have -- she had to call the state offices to confirm that they did not, in fact, have laws requiring the use of the software made by a particular vendor (out of 3) ... the clerks all thought they had to. It didn't matter what other software was out there, as far as they were concerned, the state required them to b
    • And the site you linked to ( is running Plone, one of the best open source content management systems out there, IMHO.
  • Put this in perspective for me... how does it compare to SolidWorks? I found that super easy to use, but perhaps not as powerful as some other packages.
    • by morrison ( 40043 ) *
      It really depends on what it is you are comparing. BRL-CAD is primarily a solid modeling system, with tools that span a very wide gamut. It is a very powerful system, but is definately not necessarily "super easy to use" any more so than UNIX is (take that however you may). Quite the contrary, many of the tools can be downright cryptic or counter-intuitive.

      That said, the power of the system's expressiveness, the performance and fidelity of the ray-trace engine, it's ability to deal with massively compl
    • I can see from replies by people who are involved in the project that BRLCAD is modelling for analysis, whereas in SolidWorks you have integrated tools for modelling to build, manufacture, document and QA: Bills of material, 2D drawing/perspective/views with dimensioning and tolerances, etc.
  • Is there a preferred/traditional way to also make 2D drawings/paperspace views of the models with this system? Also, capabilities for multiuser environment? I come from AutoCAD/ProE/AutoTrol background
    • Alas, this is pretty much stricly a 3D package. We've looked at adding 2D capabilities for years, but the cost/benefit ratio was never there. The principle function of the package has been and remains computational analysis of geometry.
      • thanks for the reply, now of course I'm curious to build BRLCAD and get into code and see if it's possible or sensible to have a way to transform and link geometric entities with an external "paperspace" section view that has all the drafting type entities in it. A couple decades ago in school I did some coursework of numerical methods for computational geometry with various splines and surfaces, will be fun to poke around in there if nothing else.

      • Many 3D packages produce poor 2D drawings. While working with the model in the design phase is very helpful, when the project gets to the prefab shop or field construction phase many of the model's advantages go away.

        This is usually because the fab/erection contractor cannot easily work with the model and keeping track of revisions can be a problem.

        I'm referring to plant design projects that feature a lot of piping in case you missed my URL.

        Great to see that the source is released, maybe we'll see an o
  • Where's the repository of model files? I want to redesign the Navy's floating airport for civilian use in NYC.
  • by ispel ( 266661 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @03:10PM (#11298220)
    Check out the repository for this project hosted on SF []. Here's a link to the readme file history [] (dates back to 17 years, 11 months ago!!!).

    It is possible they have been using CVS all these years; CVS was publically released in 1896 [], though I believe they may have alternatively used RCS [] and migrated to CVS somewhere down the line.

  • I'm not enough of a KDE programmer to know what it would take to port this. I would really like to see something like this in a standard linux distribution along side other great programs like mozilla, open office, GIMP. ETC. (or Koffice, Konqueror, etc.)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Given that the licenses are the GPL, LGPL, GFDL, and BSD, wouldn't it be more appropriate for the summary to say that BRL-CAD had been released as Free, rather than Open Source Software? This is Slashdot, where people are expected to know the difference.
  • I have BRLCAD installed here on a Sun workstation at home and I can tell you that it takes some getting used to as it's not very user friendly.

    Like most powerful tools it's difficult to learn to use with effectiveness. That and the interface is more than a little clunky

    I honestly prefer things like SolidWorks which while not as powerful is a hell of a lot easier to use.
  • by wikinerd ( 809585 )
    I thought all US Government material was in the public domain.
  • I just thought I'd mention OpenCascade []

    Very much underappreciated:

  • After growing up on Povray, I find that mesh-based modellers just feel far too fuzzy and vague to be at all useful. How are you supposed to do anything precisely by hauling points around by hand? What are you supposed to do if you discover that you wanted to change your mind about something half an hour ago? Do it all again? Ugh.

    CSG allows a completely different approach, more like programmer, that suits me far better. I'm currently 50% of the way through the download. Kewl.

    On an unrelated note, I suspe

    • After growing up on Povray, I find that mesh-based modellers just feel far too fuzzy and vague to be at all useful. How are you supposed to do anything precisely by hauling points around by hand? What are you supposed to do if you discover that you wanted to change your mind about something half an hour ago? Do it all again?

      You wouldn't say this if you'd ever used a decent mesh-based modeller. The graph-based systems of modellers like Maya and Houdini give you the best of both worlds: CSG if that's appr

      • You would say that if you want to use traditional CAD methods like radius/chamfer instead of extrude/bevel etc.

        You would definitely say it if you wanted to create manufacturable models and communicate their parameters to a manual or automated machining process.

        You would say that if you need parametric modelling based on aspects of the model itself - e.g. you want your modelling tool to retain the relationships between entities in your model automatically - e.g. a dowel-piece is always .005mm smaller in ra
        • Trimmed NURBS are about the only primitives Maya/Houdini share with 'real' solid modelling tools, and their implementation is focussed on a completely different use-case.

          I thought it was fairly clear that the poster that I was replying to was interested in the same use case as Maya/Houdini (coming from POV-Ray), rather than CAD.

          I can certainly see why solid modelling would be a distinct advantage in CAD. People in the entertainment industry, on the other hand, want both in general. The reason why I me

  • One of the complaints I hear most often about open source is the lack of powerful, free CAD software, and it's one of the few where the complaint is completely justified.

    BRL-CAD is not your typical college student weekend project - this thing is INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH and used in the REAL WORLD for years and years. This news just made my day, and I hope to put an ebuild up soon, given how clean the make process has been thus far :-).

    This is a great way for open source to get high powered applications - olde
  • I've recently had cause to investigate design tools to a degree that I had not previously.

    My preference is open source. So imagine my dismay at finding that not just that the business world is held hostage to .doc, .xls, .ppt but that the design world is held hostage to .dwg .

    I saw some hope in the Open Design Alliance [], Open Cascade and some of the free CAD tools, but the range of secret but widely-used import and export formats that the commercial tools offer seem to make them an essential purchase fo

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