By on November 22, 2010

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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7 Comments on “Microsoft Mines Brains Of Chinese Taxi Drivers...”

  • avatar

    It seems Chinese cab drivers are smarter than American ones. Here in the US they always have to either ask the passenger how to get there (why do I get a cab then??) or call their agency. None of them have GPS, which really would cut into their business model since when it takes longer and they take the longer route, they make even more money. that at least happens when I take a cab…

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      Which is smarter?  The cab driver that earns the most money or the cab driver that gets you to your destination faster?  Here’s a hint – if you miss your plane the cab driver is not penalized.

  • avatar

    Do Chinese taxi drivers get the infamous “blue screen of death?”  Sorry.  That was 0 value added.

  • avatar

    “Located in the silicone gulch in the north of Beijing”

    Pamela Anderson is Chinese?

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      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.

  • avatar

    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.

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