Ron Bridle: computers in civil engineering

Ron Bridle discusses the differences that early computers made to civil engineering.

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And I started teaching myself how to program a computer, which was a bit more difficult in those days because you had to look after the store yourself. But not only did I fancy doing it myself, I fancied everybody else doing it. And my feeling was that engineers ought to learn how to programme it, not in fact just set out and let someone else programme it, or use somebody else’s programme, ‘cause you wouldn’t know what you were doing. If someone else had put subroutines, or whatever, in and you hadn’t quite cottoned on to what they were doing, it’s easy enough to make a mistake, to have an output which is not valid. So I thought it was better for the engineer to understand what he was doing than having a third party try and tell what he should be doing.

Are there any things having the computer available – are there any things you can do with the computer that you couldn’t do before?

Yes, I think that you couldn’t do the amount of volume of arithmetic, and you couldn’t solve the methods that were being used, because of the volume of arithmetic. Iteration – the one thing that a computer can do that other systems can’t do is iterate and iterate and iterate and iterate. And then that’s powerful, powerful methods then, so you can use methods you couldn’t possibly use longhand. And so the iteration was the great thing that the computer could do. So you could do finite element analysis, and so on. This is why you could do it with a road scheme. You could move the alignment, keep iterating moving the alignment, until you could get a minimisation of travel costs and, going up and down, minimisation of the excavation costs. So that’s our optimisation system.
  • Interviewee Ron Bridle
  • Duration 00:02:20
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 4/26/2012
  • Shelfmark C1379/75

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