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Microsoft T-Drive Uses GPS Tracking Data to Reduce Cab Drive Times

No one knows how to get around a city faster than a cab driver, which is why Microsoft  gathered GPS tracking data from 33,000 taxi cab drivers in Beijing for several months.  Microsoft engineers sifted through three months of GPS vehicle tracking data transmitted from the GPS devices.  They wanted to identify shortcuts cab drivers were using to avoid traffic signals, congested intersections and other slow-downs.

T-Drive, complete with the capability to find real solutions to real street traffic situations. The software can determine what is the best route for a Beijing cab driver at any given time based on the accumulated Beijing cab drivers’’ knowledge of congested areas and shortcuts. According to Microsoft, “on average, the cabbies’ routes shave off 16 percent of a trip, saving 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of driving.”

T-Drive supposedly provides far more useful information than Google Maps or Mapquest. At least half the results provided by T-Drive were 20 percent faster than other tools, providing an overall time savings of 16 percent. That amounts to cutting your time behind the wheel by 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of traveling, according to the research paper.

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.

The only bad news is that he system only works in Beijing and doesn’t include real-time info such as traffic accidents. But the researchers are confident the system will be able to provide real-time data in any city with a lot of cabs.

T-Drive is one of several mapping tools trying to make your commute easier and faster. University of California researchers are developing a system that uses GPS info received  from drivers’ cell phones.

Here are the complete Microsoft research paper (.pdf) outlining the findings.

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2010/11/cabbies-help-microsoft-improve-online-mapping/