[GRASS-dev] Add a cost distance measure to GRASS GIS lib

Benjamin Ducke benducke at fastmail.fm
Thu Mar 1 14:02:19 EST 2012

I believe we are thinking in different directions here.
My idea was not about _least_ cost paths, but about
replacing straight-line distance measurements with
cost-based distances -- for more realism when modelling
physical processes. Just like you'd use a geodetic
distance instead of eculidean in a lat/lon region.

What I was thinking about was to have just one CONST
raster that encodes the cost of moving through each
of its cells (in all directions in the simple
isotropic case).

All GRASS modules that use fixed neighborhoods or
flexible search radii would then measure the distance
between two points by accumulating the costs in the
cells on the straight line between the two points.

Suppose the user has created a COST raster with "1"
representing "no additional cost" and "2" representing
"doubled cost for crossing steep terrain". Then if
he/she specified 100 m as e.g. the search radius for
a KDE, the maximum search distance will in some
extreme cases already be reached after approximately
50 m, because those 50 cost as much as 100 m on flat
terrain. That would make the kernel's shape flexible
and adjusted to the real terrain, instead of a fixed

The same idea translates 1:1 to IDW, r.neighbors, etc.


On Thu, Mar 1, 2012, at 17:14, Glynn Clements wrote:
> Benjamin Ducke wrote:
> > I have been pondering this for a while and would
> > like to know if people on this list think the
> > following would be a feasible/useful addition to
> > GRASS (7):
> > 
> > How about, in addition to the MASK raster, we'd
> > also allow the user to specify a COST raster?
> > This would allow all raster modules that currently
> > use an euclidean distance measure (KDE, IDW, ...)
> > to use a cost-based measure instead, without adding
> > more options to the individual modules.
> > 
> > In addition to the COST raster, we could modify the
> > basic distance function in the GRASS GIS lib to
> > automatically return a cost-based result if the
> > COST raster is present. This way, there would have
> > to be no or only minimal modifications to existing
> > modules.
> This proposal makes no sense.
> The mask raster is relatively cheap to implement, while a least-cost
> path is one of the most expensive calculations available in GRASS.
> Also, the mask raster affects every raster module which reads at least
> one input map, while very few modules calculate distances.
> Being able to calculate least-cost distances between arbitrary points
> would require holding the entire cost raster in memory.
> If you want least-cost distances from a fixed set of points to
> arbitrary points, it's significantly more efficient to generate
> distance rasters in advance (which requires knowing the starting
> points).
> If you want multiple least-cost distances between arbitrary points,
> you would probably want to cache some intermediate results in order to
> allow an upper bound on the distance to be calculated cheaply. But you
> probably can't afford the memory to cache every intermediate result,
> and knowing which ones are worth caching is application-specific.
> -- 
> Glynn Clements <glynn at gclements.plus.com>

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