Design and implementation of graphical user interfaces for complex simulations
The development of increasingly powerful computers, which has enabled the use of windowing software, has also opened the way for the computer study, via simulation, of very complex physical systems. In this study, the main issues related to the implementation of interactive simulations of complex systems are identified and discussed. Most existing simulators are closed in the sense that there is no access to the source code and, even if it were available, adaptation to interaction with other systems would require extensive code re-writing. This work aims to increase the flexibility of such software by developing a set of object-oriented simulation classes, which can be extended, by subclassing, at any level, i.e., at the problem domain, presentation or interaction levels. A strategy, which involves the use of an object-oriented framework, concurrent execution of several simulation modules, use of a networked windowing system and the re-use of existing software written in procedural languages, is proposed. A prototype tool which combines these techniques has been implemented and is presented. It allows the on-line definition of the configuration of the physical system and generates the appropriate graphical user interface. Simulation routines have been developed for the chemical recovery cycle of a paper pulp mill. The application, by creation of new classes, of the prototype to the interactive simulation of this physical system is described. Besides providing visual feedback, the resulting graphical user interface greatly simplifies the interaction with this set of simulation modules. This study shows that considerable benefits can be obtained by application of computer science concepts to the engineering domain, by helping domain experts to tailor interactive tools to suit their needs.