Microsoft Mines Brains Of Chinese Taxi Drivers

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
microsoft mines brains of chinese taxi drivers

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.

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  • Cmoibenlepro Cmoibenlepro on Nov 22, 2010

    There should be a significant flat fee to take a cab. There would then be an incentive for the cab driver to take the fastest route since he would need to maximize the number of clients to maximize profits. He would also increase the number of tips from clients.

    • Andreroy55 Andreroy55 on Nov 23, 2010

      There is a flat fee, it's called 'the drop'. I haven't been in a cab in ages, so I'll just make up some numbers. Get in a cab, turn on the meter and you owe five bucks. Go a couple of blocks, it's up to six. The meter works on a combination of time and distance. Stop at a light and the meter can still advance, drive a distance and the meter advances. Decades ago when I drove cab, the breakeven speed was something like 15 MPH, slower than that and the meter ran on time, faster and it ran on distance. So, getting you there quickly is the way for me to make more money. Assuming it's a reasonably busy day. A busy, rainy day with a bunch of connecting rides of a few blocks each really run up the meter rather nicely.

  • Pete Madsen Pete Madsen on Nov 22, 2010

    I spent a few months working as a parts-and-packages shipping/delivery/pick-up guy for a construction equipment dealer in south Seattle. Believe me, I knew all the shortcuts right down to which ones worked on which days and at which times of day. Guys with jobs like this would be a better bet for generic quick ways about town. Otoh, my destinations were somewhat limited...other parts houses, bus stations (in 1961 we were still shipping a lot of stuff by Greyhound), the main post office, one freight forwarder on the waterfront where we shipped parts bound for Hawaii or Alaska by boat fairly frequently. Speed was always important in that business. Construction guys or loggers need to have their equipment working so they can make the payments on those expensive machines, and if they don't get their parts as promised they're likely to come in and go right over your desk.

  • Kat Laneaux Agree with Michael500, we wasted all that money just to bail out GM and they are developing these cars in China and other countries. What the heck. I understand the cheap labor but that is just another foothold the government has on their citizens and they already treat them like crap. That is pretty disgusting to go forward to put other peoples health and mental stability on a crazy crazed, control freak, leader, who is in bed with Russia. Thought about getting a buick but that just shot that one out of the park. All of this for the greed. They get what they lay in bed with. Disgusting.
  • Michael500 Good thing Obama used $50 billion of taxpayer money to bail them out and give unions a big stake. GM is headed to BK again with their Hail Mary hope of EVs. Hopefully a Republican in office will let them go BK the next time, and it's coming. The US economy is not related/dependent on GM and their Chinese made Buicks.
  • MaintenanceCosts "Rural areas hardly noticed COVID at all."I very much doubt that is true in places like the Navajo Nation or the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, some of which lost 2% or more of their population to COVID.No city had a death rate in the same order of magnitude.Low-density living is a very modern invention. Before cars, people, even in agricultural areas, needed to live densely to survive.
  • Wjtinfwb Always liked these MN12 cars and the subsequent Lincoln variant. But Ford, apparently strapped for resources or cash, introduced these half-baked. Very sophisticated chassis and styling, let down but antiquated old pushrod engines and cheap interiors. The 4.6L Modular V8 helped a bit, no faster than the 5.0 but extremely smooth and quiet. The interior came next, nicer wrap-around dash, airbags instead of the mouse belts and refined exterior styling. The Supercharged 3.8L V6 was potent, but kind of crude and had an appetite for head gaskets early on. Most were bolted to the AOD automatic, a sturdy but slow shifting gearbox made much better with electronic controls in the later days. Nice cars that in the right color, evoked the 6 series BMW, at least the Thunderbird did. Could have been great cars and maybe should have been a swoopy CLS style sedan. Pretty hard to find a decent one these days.
  • Inside Looking Out You should care. With GM will die America. All signs are there. How about the Arsenal of Democracy? Toyota?