Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Wishlist - Better Mapping Algorithms

I occasionally have random ideas that I think are things that could make society a better place, but which I'm woefully unequipped to actually implement. So what the heck, a wishlist it is.

Right now, most people use Google Maps or a similar app to navigate. And it's a very good tool - it's got live transit schedules, it's responsive to traffic conditions, and so on. But there's a few refinements that I think would make it better. In the Toronto area, there's a major toll highway called the 407. It's very convenient for travel on the outskirts of the city, but it's extremely pricey. Google Maps will usually send me on it if it's in the area, but I'm almost never willing to spend $10 to save two minutes, so I always have to dig through the menus to the "Avoid Tolls" option. Thing is, if it was $10 to save me an hour because some other road was a disaster zone, I'd probably take it. Likewise, going a few miles out of my way to get on the highway and save thirty seconds(which happens a fair bit when travelling in certain directions) seems like a waste of gas.

This got me thinking - it should be fairly easy to just say what model of car you drive and how much your time is worth to you, then have the app calculate your mileage, local gas prices, wear and tear on the car, toll costs, the costs of time taken, and put that all into a single number. Call it the "Most Efficient Route", then follow it with "Fastest Route"(if they differ), for people in a hurry. Maybe also "Cheapest Route", where time is valued at zero.

You can even do this between different transport modes - perhaps the fastest route downtown is driving to the subway station, parking, and taking the subway(or perhaps it's not fastest, but it's cheaper than the gas you'd spend getting downtown). Perhaps just jumping on a bike is better than driving. If it was really good, you could incorporate travel planning websites, and it could tell you whether driving, flying, or taking the train was your best bet. Maybe car rental sites too, for people who don't have a car. Heck, if Google is going to be creepy and save all our information anyway, maybe even throw in a third option, "Scenic Route", that will take you in a direction you haven't been in the last few weeks or months.

Efficiency, properly understood, is a complex function of many variables, and this won't be perfect, but this seems like a heck of a lot closer than simply looking at time for a transport mode you pick.

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