This came along and my project started in to humm…
Well, Vegas is history now, but a humm or two never hurt anybody…

This one I had a while ago with Civil 3D Implementation at a Surveying firm.

We were all podding along when the AGES old issue in the form of a Surveyor, well forged in field and office, hit us with the requirement:

“We need to insert and orientate some symbols in our drawings by picking two points in the field.”

You know, pick a point: “gate”. And the second one, and when that gets imported it takes the orientation of point1 to point2 and inserts a symbol with that rotation. Fair enough. Examples? There are many: gates, utility pits, traffic control arrows etc.

I admit: It’s hard to know what the rotation angle of a gate block should be to enter it while in the field. Clockwise or otherwise…You’d need a portable sextant with you for that one. (he, search engines, here’s my blog…)

Well, now we have a solution in Civil 3D because we are able to define Markers on Figures: Vertex, Endpoint and MIDPOINT Markers. This is controlled by Figure Style and we’ll need some Blocks in the drawing file and some Marker Styles defined.

The core of this method is that a Surveyor will be starting a Figure in order to insert a Block with accurate orientation.

You will need to:

1. Create a block with a shape of a gate symbol:  o><o

Gate Block then,

2. Create a Marker Style in Settings Toolspace under General->Multipurpose Styles->Marker Styles

Marker Style then,

3. Create a Figure Style under Survey->Figure Styles-> Use the created Marker Style as Midpoint Marker and set it to align with Figure

Figure Style Markers then, switch On or Off required Figure components Figure Style Display 

4. Define a Figure Prefix entry in the FigPref library:

Figure Prefix Library Entry then,

when collecting this Gate feature in the field, instead of a single point, you start a new Figure and pick just the two points in the exact order that determines the Block orientation on the plan. When you import the Fieldbook, Gate symbols should look something like this:

Case 1 or this:

Case 2 or this:

With Figure Editing Either way,

you can change the Display state for Figure Lines, Markers or Picked Points components by editing Figure Style.

This feature could be improved by including a scale factor for the block, calculated to scale the Marker to fit exactly between the two observed points. Or, we could use dynamic blocks for Markers…

Part of our passion for Civil 3D comes from discovering those little “secrets” to meet such requirements! I wish I came accross one of those every week. So you can keep reading and I can keep breathing.

Now, that’s a piece of wishful thinking…

Until the golden sands…
I believe I owe you a few more of these.

Oh yes, and thanks to good ‘ol Frankie for his “philotrophy”… 😉


A post long overdue: What I did one hot Summer…

It was this same holiday season in Australia just as they were in many places around the world at the same time. During those times we usually have some serious weather around there: 42C (110F) temperatures, no wind unless it’s the one that feels like someone pointed a hairdryer in your face, full force set on “Hot”…

So if you’re not watching tennis or indulging somewhere on the beach and working towards that hard earned skin cancer, you would be sitting in an air conditioned room and fiddling with Civil 3D API. What else!

And so, I had someone ask me to populate Object Data field named “Elevation” in their ArcView® shape files with Civil 3D Surface elevations AND (believe it or not) PAY me for the privilege. All that for some 2000 point symbols in a utility network.

So there we were, it came out from the neck of the woods where I would not expect to get such request. But it was a legitimate call to automate integration of Spatial data with the Civil Engineering functions or objects, in Civil 3D.

So I jumped to the opportunity to bring to life this whole idea of Spatial-Civil integration. And here is what came out of that:

The client had imported some ArcView Shape files in Civil 3D. Points data – nodes in a utility network. The attribute table was imported but there was one unknown value: Rim Elevation! The survey of the network was done and the Surface Object was in Civil 3D drawing file.

But, we’ve got this when we list the porperties of any node: Before Surface < Click on the thumbnail to enlarge

After trying a couple of methods to achieve this with AutoCAD Map 3D and Civil 3D we arrived at the conclusion that the APIs of both Map and Civil can be utilized to solve this. A little user interface and some digging through Dictionaries of Object Data Tables produced this utility:

User Interface < Click on the thumbnail to enlarge

After this quick selection process, we had all similar objects (type, Layer, OD Table Name etc.) populated with Elevations from selected Surface Object. and the results were showing:

After Surface < Click on the thumbnail to enlarge

Civil 3D 2008 provides utilities to drape a selection of different objects on to a selected surface. However, AutoCAD Point Object is not supported, this would change the Z-coordinate of insertion point only and we could not pass the value of it to a selected OD Table field. Because Property Alterations don’t support using Object Properties to set a value for a selected OD Table field.

Nothing that a little VBA can’t achieve and bring the Spatial data and Civil Engineering together!

Hasta pronto!

This was planned to appear here many days ago. (hmm, that’s an understatement…) Well, the day has come… It follows the previous post as the real life example from the industry.

 I was in Coober Pedy for the whole of one week, many weeks ago. That’s the place where men, women and others dig in to find precious stones of Opal, the Australia’s famous gemstone. I didn’t say the most famous because there are apparently some that are becoming more famous. Such as Uranium for example. Not everyone would call that one a “gemstone”. Time will tell, and I hope we can revisit then.

This little town sits on the edge of civilization, some 700mi North-West from South Australia’s capital, Adelaide. You can call THIS one  – Outback. Walk up to the first hill and you will see the same old flatland, shrubbed to horizion. The landscape extends unchanged (and unchallenged) for hundreds of miles. Or maybe thousands – I didn’t feel like checking it out…

The local authorities here excel in optimizing their resources to sustain growth and continue to provide best service to the community so much in need for efficient roads and drainage.

Engineering is on the forefront of that game but resources are scarce – many opt to go and work on a Panama project for a major international. Money, fun and glory I guess…

Anyways, the need here is for efficient road network, overlaid on top of well battered dirt roads. No freezing – ever. Just a good, solid mixture of goodies to seal the dirt, not cost a fortune and allow heavy trucks and stiletto shoes to roam over in high seasons.

Noticed the comment about cost? Well ok, stilettos take the storm there. To minimize the cost of sealing dirt roads and provide the highest throughput of heavy traffic, Coober Pedy City Council employs the best practices in Civil 3D and some ingenuity on the forefront of our sweeping tsunami.

We were just cruising among Tool Palettes, Right-clicks and Styles when a Surveyor walked in: “Here, before you go too far, make sure we can read-in this data from my jigger.” And he was holding that Topcon total-station by the neck. Sure, a good cowboy never chickens out of any challenge so we tugged the cords to the right port and slapped a baud rate where it matters…

We used the usual, Topcons own pack but it only gave us NEZ of points file. I asked for  Topcon’s documentation and THERE (who would expect that) we found a few words about LandXML… After exporting the job from the jigger and importing it back in Civil 3D as Survey LandXML we hit the wall of a syntax error on line 1224…

Somehow this time, the crew was impressed just by the fact that we were able to display points and symbols in the correct layout. We left it at that and continued with the data set by learning about the best ways to define breaklines from selected point objects on the screen. So we made a Point File format to import points by Point Name:

 Topcon Point File Format and we arrived at the points in Prospector and on the screen. As far as everyone was concerned, this mission was accomplished:

Points in Prospector Points on screen 

But not to me, since that Survey LandXML import went part of the way but just shy of completion, some under the hood work was on the books.

The sample data, screen captures and the outcome was sent to Autodesk. Digested and disected, not sure about the order there, I had the advice of resolution come my way in the form of Service Pack, soon enough.

So now, we were able to watch (online session this time) Topcon generated Survey LandXML file produce some Survey content in the Survey database and it looked like this:

Survey LandXML in Survey Database The outcome is that now surveyors can explore the full potential of setting up multiple stations, defining Traverse loops, collecting figures etc. and significantly cut down the time spent in the office on processing those points to define breaklines, check and correct the data…

Meeting with strangers and then parting with friends a couple of days later is my perfect scenario but this one had to be extended well beyond Friday evening since flights from Coober Pedy resume on Sunday afternoons only. So, I had a choice to get out and about or stay and rust away in my room. Since no Dorothy with an oil can was in sight, I decided to go. 

It was all hip-to-hip that Friday night at the Main Pub in Coober Pedy when the travelling hoo-wee-hop of leaping lizzards show passed through the town. I too, was lining up at the bar for some digger’s mouth relief. I thought I was having fun until a local dealer of “fine Opal” from his pocket (that should have bought him a few more drinks that night) made me realize just how obvious I was. It was the time to call it quits and retreat to the confines of the mud hut room and a mellow sound of em-pee-threes streaming behind the barren screen of my mobile phone…

Blimey! This post sat in the draft unnoticed for days! Well, better late than never…

Leica announces that their total stations have the onboard ability to convert 1200 Series jobs to Autodesk Fieldbook (FBK) files for use with LDT, Civil 3D and other software. This tool is part of their software suite onboard 1200 Series Instruments.

This component is called Field Data Extractor (FDE) and the latest version is 5.10. Civil 3D users with Leica jigger can download it from:

Here is the extract from that page:

Field Data Extractor

So, what’s the big idea with this? Most surveying instruments support FBK format these days. Right? Well, that’s quite true, but it’s not always that simple to implement available software solutions from any instrument manufacturer. You see, total stations have become very smart these days. For example, you can use your Pocket PC, PDA or even your mobile phone with a Bluetooth as your jigger. And how do you achieve this? Very simple, you just need to install a piece of software that will connect with your total station.

Did you know about this? Do you own a PDA, a Pocket PC or a mobile phone that can do this? Do you know if such software is available from YOUR instrument vendor? Do you know where and how to get one?

Well that’s the catch, right there! You can only ever implement a piece of technology if you knew one existed to solve YOUR problem. And in different parts of this wonderful industry, information spreads in different ways. For example, you may still believe that recording sectional terrain data is THE only way to get the most accurate earthworks estimates. Or, you may still do this just because you were told to do so by a “trusted” adviser…

As a result, this software that MUST sit on your latest jigger was ported from the code that was written 20 years ago and now nests nastily over 200Mb of that memory reserved for programs on your instrument. That leaves it about 56Mb to install all the OTHER software that supports the latest and the greatest surveying methods that have emerged in the meantime.

Surveying instruments were never designed to host a very long list of software tools or surveying jobs (and thank God for that! says a support engineer).  There is a long list of extremely useful software tools developed by instrument vendors to optimize the use of their gear and make their products easy to implement and achieve the maximum productivity in no time. AND there are tools developed to run on the instrument to optimize its use with the most popular Surveying and Design software on the market such as Civil 3D. All one needs to do is ASK their vendor if those tools are available and to INCLUDE them with the software tools deployed onboard their total station.

The truth is, new total stations are delivered “blank” to your local reseller. They are then made to serve the local user by going through the workshop first, then to the Support Engineer’s desk to install the suite of software commonly used in that region. And that’s where this process breaks in many parts of the world. (Yes! Go on, blame the Support Engineer!) In most cases, you can’t do this software installation in your office – it has to be done by the instrument vendor. In many parts of the world LDT/Civil 3D have arrived just recently and the incumbent Surveying software tools were used for decades before that. And total stations from Leica, Topcon, Wild, Zeiss etc. for even longer than that. So, the software support engineers have the well defined and long time tested and proven set of software tools optimized for the common use that they install on your jigger and it fits within the constraints of the available memory. If we were to include a new software tool to talk specifically to Civil 3D then in many cases some other tools would have to be dropped  from the jigger to make space (What? Not the cross sections pickup!).  Now, do you think Support Engineers will make the decision to remove a part of the defined set of tools just to include a new one? And which component should they remove? Maybe there need to be more than one tool taken away to add the new one… Is it at all possible to do this since the set of tools may be wrapped in an install package?

There are number of reasons why many of the latest software tools that COULD be on your instrument don’t ever make it there.

Here is a list of some common tools that are often “best kept secrets”:

  1. Translators to Fieldbook file (FBK)
  2. Components enabling support for LandXML format
  3. Tools enabling support for GENIO format
  4. Components enabling direct display of field observations in an active AutoCAD drawing.

And there are more, but just to keep it SaS (Short and Sweet) we’ll leave it at this.

Here are some links to further explore this topic:


Have fun!

Rad Lazic

We frequently hear comments, sometimes even demands from LDT users to bring to Civil 3D a few of those functions and utilities we used every so often in LDT. Those cute little functions that are so close to heart because they used to span across steps in the process and even allowed us to complete otherwise complex tasks with oh, so little effort.

We all know how those small utilities can play a big role when we have to move from one stage of the design process to the next one or when we have to do something out of the ordinary and quickly. Just ask any of the “Captains of the Odd Jobs” out there…

AutoCAD Civil 3D 2008 gives a whole new life to many of them in this release. For example, we could shoot straight for the new pull-down menu Lines/Curves. If you take a quick look at what this set of tools offers it doesn’t seem all that important: a long list of good old ways to draw lines and arcs. Few of those can be done by using standard AutoCAD and some transparent commands for Bearing, Azimuth, Point selection etc.


However, those go a long way with helping the users of LDT transition to Civil 3D by providing the full set of familiar tools in the new environment. This is a very LDT user friendly feature in AutoCAD Civil 3D 2008. And we could stop here – no need to explain in any more detail how those good old LDT functions work.

Well that’s all fine except for a couple of the classics from that menu that have been given a hugely new lease on life. I’m not talking about just porting a feature from an old version to the new one. This is a total rewrite of the old functionality specification in the new, graphically enriched environment with greatly improved usability, added functionality, friendlier user interface and what’s most important – requiring minimal or virtually no training to transition to. Because we all know how quick and easy it is to get used to new things that make the life easier…

Have you ever used “Best Fit Line” or “Best Fit Curve” in LDT?


Let’s refresh: You have a set of points recorded along what you know is (or looks like) a line and you need to establish a common line that equally respects all selected points. With a little help from Higher Mathematics that teaches Linear Regression we can actually calculate the bearing that respects each and every one of those points equally well. It probably won’t run right through ANY of the points but it will be the best possible approximation of the original course. Well, that cute little tool is now under the Lines/Curves menu. And when I tell you we have those that will best fit a circular arc or a parabolic arc you should begin to see the light of the variety of applications for this little cutie!

Check this out, now I can select a set of points, AutoCAD Entities, AutoCAD Points or even just go poke the screen until the penguins go to sleep…


Then, the fun starts: as I’m selecting point objects on screen my preview arc is growing – just to let me keep my eye on the thing…And it really is an arc, and not a circle this time. 🙂

When I hit Enter to break the selection a panorama view appears and now we’re talking features: I see radius value, I can select any of the points to pass through, I have the regression diagram showing “rogue” points and I can press Ctrl and start selecting those points that obviously do not belong to this set and simply remove them. Likewise, I can add more points, send the report about the whole exercise to a text file, undo/redo and of course, clicking on the check button will create an arc extending exactly from the first selected point to the last one – not longer nor shorter than that.

  Best Fit<Click on this image to view the full size

I don’t know if you would agree, but I have used this one a lot on road reconstruction jobs to establish exiting EOP – curb returns were always a special treat. I even used this to best approximate profiles, you simply turn EG to a polyline or a set of line segments, best fit a line and then offset up as required…

Now, I don’t attempt to doubt the eagle’s eye of any designer or a surveyor of many years but this is a great enabling function to produce quality results for the rest of us! 

I could not stress more how those “Best Fit ..” functions illustrate THE BEST practice for bringing LDT functionality across to Civil 3D with the all fresh Spring breeze in them! Now, who wouldn’t prefer using these new-gen tools over those driven by pressing a numeric key to select an option!

Fantastic job Autodesk!