For something most of us deal with every day, driving directions are a surprisingly complex problem from a computing standpoint. Not only do you have to manage one way streets and back-alleys you’ve also got to deal with floating problems like traffic jams and road closures. With so many variables, what’s a mapping website to do? If you’re Microsoft you go to the experts in getting around and ask taxi drivers.
Microsoft has started a program in Beijing gathering the GPS data from 33,000 taxis around the city and mining that data for faster routes using a system they call T-Drive.
Traditional online driving directions rely on the length of streets along with the posted speed limits but that approach has obvious flaws. Most directions can’t account for even persistent traffic from things like the morning commute or a road closure but T-drive, which collected data on 3 months’ worth of cab rides, can.
Of course the real question for T-Drive is if it’s effective, and so far the answer seems to be yes. The system seems to cut about 16% off of the average driving time compared to traditional driving directions. No word yet on when or if Microsoft will be expanding the program outside of Beijing but since the system just needs a lot of GPS equipped cabs most major cities could be a great fit.
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