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Since 1979, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory has been developing and distributing the BRL-CAD constructive solid geometry (CSG) modeling package for a wide range of military and industrial applications. The package includes a large collection of tools and utilities including an interactive geometry editor, raytracing and generic framebuffer libraries, a network-distributed image-processing and signal-processing capability, and an embedded scripting language.

What is BRL-CAD?

Since the late 1950s, computers have been used to assist with the design and study of combat vehicle systems. The result has been a reduction in the amount of time and money required to take a system from the drawing board to full-scale production as well as increased efficiency in testing and evaluation.

In 1979, the U.S. Army Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL) (now the U.S. Army Research Laboratory [ARL]) expressed a need for tools that could assist with the computer simulation and engineering analysis of combat vehicle systems and environments. When no existing computer-aided design (CAD) package was found to be adequate for this purpose, BRL software developers began assembling a suite of utilities capable of interactively displaying, editing, and interrogating geometric models. This suite became known as BRL-CAD.

Now comprising almost a million lines of C code, BRL-CAD has become a powerful constructive solid geometry (CSG) modeling package that has been licensed at over 2,000 sites throughout the world. It contains a large collection of tools, utilities, and libraries including an interactive geometry editor, raytracing and generic framebuffer libraries, a network-distributed image-processing and signal-processing capability, and a customizable embedded scripting language. In addition, BRL-CAD simultaneously supports dual interaction methods, one using a command line and one using a graphical user interface (GUI).

A particular strength of the package lies in its ability to build and analyze realistic models of complex objects using a relatively small set of "primitive shapes." To do this, the shapes are manipulated by employing the basic Boolean operations of union, subtraction, and intersection. Another strength of the package is the speed of its raytracer, which is one of the fastest in existence. Finally, BRL-CAD users can accurately model objects on scales ranging from the subatomic through the galactic and get "all the details, all the time."

Why CSG Modeling?

Although BRL-CAD has been used for a wide variety of engineering and graphics applications, the package's primary purpose continues to be the support of (1) ballistic and (2) electromagnetic analyses. Accordingly, developers have found CSG modeling to be the best approach in terms of model accuracy, storage efficiency, precision, and speed of computational analysis.

While polygonal and boundary representation (B-rep) modeling often focuses on just the surfaces of objects, CSG modeling focuses on the entire volume and content of objects. This gives BRL-CAD the capability to be "more than skin deep" and build objects with real-world materials, densities, and thicknesses so that analysts can study physical phenomena such as ballistic penetration and thermal, radiative, neutron, and other types of transport.

Package Content

Figure 1. BRL-CAD data flow structure

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 and data. The basic data flow structure of the package is provided in Figure 1.