It’s a well-kept secret, which will give the willies to people who are (at least publicly) worried about intellectual property: Microsoft has one of their best R&D centers in China. Located in the silicone gulch in the north of Beijing, MSRA (Microsoft Research Asia) is working on advanced technologies, mostly in the visual area. I worked with them once, and they are NFSWing good. They just had another great idea: Why not mine the knowledge of cab drivers when it comes to proposing the best route on your in-car navigation system?
Navigation systems usually provide two types of directions: The shortest-distance route, and the route that is fastest based on the length of the road and typical vehicle speed. Some augment them with real time traffic information – with mixed results.
“When selecting driving directions, taxi drivers usually consider multiple factors including distance, traffic flow and signals, direction changes, and the probability of accidents,” Zheng Yu, a researcher at Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA), told China’s Global Times.
So MSRA put GPS devices into more than 33,000 of the 80,000 Beijing taxis, and collected the data over three months.
“On average, 50 percent of our routes are at least 20 percent faster than the competing approaches,” says a report of by the MSRA. Earlier this year, an IBM survey had found that Beijing has the worst traffic in the world. At least Microsoft is doing something to get around it.
You are probably thinking the same as I did: What if all people suddenly know the hidden shortcuts? Microsoft thought of that as well. The taxi-based system, dubbed “T-Drive,” will dole out routes that try to balance the traffic.
Here’s an idea for MSRP: For their “T-Drive Ultimate,” I offer the data produced by a gizmo in my driver’s car. He (ab)uses bike lanes, bus lanes, takes shortcuts through hotel driveways, and sometimes goes down a one way street in reverse. I never missed a plane.