I usually aim to be agnostic about simulation tools, but I am a big fan of AnyLogic. They just released the beta for their newest release 7.2 so I thought I'd check it out. This post is mainly about my initial impressions and the potential of the new features for future modellers. It is not a bug-finding exercise... Let's have a look and start with the most powerful feature, in my opinion:
Convert shapefile features to AnyLogic objects
Wow! I spent half my PhD to achieve this and now you can do it in 2 clicks: You can load a shapefile into your GIS map and easily say "please convert whatever I see on the screen to ... railway tracks, walls or GIS route objects". It seems to work well with the simple shapefiles I tested:
I think this feature will greatly enhance the capability of the GIS map as most geographical data is sitting in shapefiles, not in public maps. I hope, AnyLogic will be able to cope with more complex shapefiles but since there are buttons for selecting only points or paths, I am quite hopeful. This will give us modellers the power to finally tap into shapefiles on a whim. One thing I am missing is that the features are named generically instead of using the shapefile feature name (so that the river "Nile" is not named "feature12" anymore). But that is nit-picking :-)
And yet another big new introduction that has a huge potential to change our future work. Each model now comes with an integrated database to avoid the pains of linking to external databases. Although, AnyLogic provided some objects to help you, trouble was usually very close! It was much safer to do it programmatically.
Now, we have the power of SQL statements pulling whatever you need from a central place as well as storing outputs there. Neat. Importing data seems straightforward although I had a little trouble figuring out how to actually apply it to your model. I am hoping for a nice sample model here. It should also include how to write out custom results and save them into a user-friendly data file. Currently, data seems hidden in obscure files in a model sub-folder.
Another very important feature should be auto-update: I want to load data from a specific Excel-file and build my model around it. However, my client might provide updated data in the same format and I will need my model to apply that new data automatically (or with a few clicks max). I haven't found if that is possible anywhere, yet...
AnyLogic continues its approach to add specific libraries for specific uses (they call it "vertical solutions"). After rail and pedestrians (what has become of the trial car library, btw?), they included a fluids library. I haven't quite checked it out but from their marketing
... I don't see the difference to using the existing System dynamics tool set. However, there a a number of users in the pipeline and gas industry who will probably welcome the addition. I am sure it cuts some corners nicely. It is seamlessly working with other libraries (process blocks...) so that is a plus.
And the rest...
You can now request GIS map routing via railways. A useful addition showing that AnyLogic understands the power of GIS and that the current capability only taps 1% of what could be possible. So keep going, I love the direction. Let me easily retrieve additional data about my routes: speed restrictions, number of lanes, number of tracks, height... Even if through a paid service, a simple UI to help us get that would be amazing.
The pedestrian library has improved escalator and queuing setup. I haven't tested it but welcome additions to make the good library even better.
To be honest, I am usually quite excited with new AnyLogic releases as they pack in a big bag of new features while not making a big deal out of them. And this time it is no different.
There are two deal-breaking new features that could set AnyLogic further apart from its competitors: shapefile conversion and the internal database. And there are a number of new additions that will be very welcome to niche users.
However, there are a few things that I am missing, but maybe some make it into the final release:
- mention the bug-fixes and give us details. I know that a number of bugs have been fixed but all users should benefit and I don't want to ensure they are fixed by re-testing "does it work now?"...
- provide at least 1 sample model for each new feature, especially for the database. It will be used a lot and an easy intro model could safe support a lot of time :-)
- Please, pleeeaaase add a sample model search functionality. It's great to see so many sample models but I need to be able to search by keywords. How did I load xls-data again? How could I animate a door?