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UPS Using Software To Eliminate Left Turns 511

cybermage writes "The NY Times has a story about UPS using software to dramatically reduce the number of left turns their drivers take. With a fleet of vehicles their size, the time and money saved by pre-planning routes that try to eliminate left turns means big savings." Some CS major probably figured this out instead of traveling salesman.
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UPS Using Software To Eliminate Left Turns

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  • by suso ( 153703 ) * on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:21AM (#21670841) Homepage Journal
    Three rights make a left. Ok, were's my check?
  • My rant. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Here in Minneapolis, we have lights on the onramps to the highways to control the flow of people getting on certain roads at certain times.

    Aside from my thought of 'this just doesn't work, I have also wondered about how much time and gas is wasted for people to sit and wait for their time for the 'green light'.

    One car per green. The wait can be from about 2 seconds between greens and 20 seconds (or more). I have seen cars waiting for several minutes, when the highways are very open. I can't figure it out
    • by scsirob ( 246572 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:27AM (#21670945)
      There's a difference between concept and implementation. Traffic shaping on highway onramps can help reduce congestion on the highways itself. This must be inplemented with some sort of feedback loop between traffic flow on the highway and the number of cars allowed onto it.

      If you are waiting a long time when no traffic is on the highway then the implementation is flawed.
      • Those are being installed all around Atlanta as we speak. I was at a public feedback meeting for adding HOV lanes to I-285 a month or so ago, and happened to find out that, at least in Atlanta, they were planning to control those onramp lights manually, using cameras and human operators. I don't know how many onramps a single operator is supposed to control, but I could easily imagine him not paying sufficient attention and leaving a ramp sitting on red for a few minutes, or going to the bathroom, or any nu

        • I drive on I-75, 85 and 285 to and from work every day, and I got the impression that those lights are used not for controlling how much traffic can hit the interstates, but because Atlanta drivers don't know the concept of zipper traffic. By the way, those lights already work at the Freedom Parkway entry onto I-85S, and they appear being automated.
        • Wow. They must have hired the people at Marta to design that... they're smarta!
      • > If you are waiting a long time when no traffic is on the highway then the implementation is flawed

        The flaw is simple: the feedback is not taking into account the number of cars lined up at the light.
      • by Bearpaw ( 13080 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @12:33PM (#21671995)
        While the implementation may well be flawed, it's also possible that the observer's perception of the situation is too limited to adequately judge it. By the nature of the problem, shaping traffic patterns can involve local actions that look non-optimal but have a positive effect on the overall system.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eln ( 21727 )
      It's so you don't have 80 cars coming from the same ramp trying to merge onto the freeway at the same time. When you have that many cars merging at once, they are invariably going at a very slow speed because some jackass who is afraid of the freeway is slowing everyone down, and you end up with a mad scramble as people in the right lane try to get out of the way, and people in the next lane have to move out of their way, and so on. The result is a situation where you are either going to get a collision o
      • It's so you don't have 80 cars coming from the same ramp trying to merge onto the freeway at the same time. When you have that many cars merging at once, they are invariably going at a very slow speed because some jackass who is afraid of the freeway is slowing everyone down,

        Maybe it depends on the area and freeway capacity, but we have them in our area, and guess what? If there are 80 cars merging from the on-ramp, that means it's rush hour and the average speed in all lanes is already below 20mph. If t

    • I went to Oregon over the summer and they had the same setup. It was very confusing to me, having never seen a light on an entry ramp. Also, ramps are suppose to allow one to get up to speed and merge more easily, it seems that by brining people to a halt on the ramp, this becomes more difficult.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by lb746 ( 721699 )
        They work great here in Columbus, Ohio. They only go on during heavy traffic times, and keep the flow of traffic on the highway going at a relatively quick speed. In Cleveland, where they do not have them. During a green light merge frenzy, the speed of the highway easily drops below the speed of local streets.
    • Try driving in Bangkok!!!! Any given light was at least a 20 minute wait. Sometimes, up to 30 min. Still, I loved the place.
      • by c_forq ( 924234 )
        Try driving in Bangkok!!!

        As someone who has been to Bangkok I am going to have to turn down your invitation to get myself killed. I also think in the interest of public safety you should withdraw your invite, especially to those from countries that drive on the right side of the road - it is hard enough to get used to that change let alone the loose traffic laws and darting motorcycle taxis.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by digitig ( 1056110 )

          I also think in the interest of public safety you should withdraw your invite, especially to those from countries that drive on the right side of the road - it is hard enough to get used to that change let alone the loose traffic laws and darting motorcycle taxis.
          If Bangkok is anything like Mumbai, the side of the road is irrelevant. I had to ask a local which side of the road people were supposed to be driving on, because I couldn't tell by looking at the traffic.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by slim-t ( 578136 )
      My senior EE project was in conjuction with the MNDot Traffic Management Center. They take a lot of factors into account when setting the metering time. If the freeway is clear, the metering should be shut off. If you don't think they are working right, call the Traffic Management Center and tell them.

      This page tells a little about them. [imsasafety.org]

    • .. which we have on some of the older highways in NY, CN, and NJ. Hopefully, sometime soon, the adminstrators of these traffic lights will learn about setups that can guage the feasibility of a merge and operate accordingly.
    • I think these are everywhere and in my opinion quite effective, assuming; a.) it is only enabled during rush hour, b.) it is placed with the correct timing based on congestion. Traffic ripples (wave) can be a pain in the but. Those would be the effect of driving down the freeway (highway for you all) and seeing everyone hit there brakes for no apparent reason. I think these lights are to reduce this effect. If you were to have poorly timed merges then it was cause a continuous ripple effect which is a. dang
    • Back in the early 80's, I-25 in Denver would literally come to a crawl and it would be true stop and go traffic. The reason is that at the top of the on-ramps would be stop lights. These would release a batch of cars (2 abreast), who would then FLOOD i-25. At the merge point, the I-25 cars literally had to stop to allow the mass of merging cars in. In 1986, they added those on-ramp lights, and it changed the flow of I-25. Basically, these were timed to the flow of traffic. As I-25 go heavier, then the red l
  • From a time issue along. Left turns usually require red light wait, whereas many right turns just a stop, count 3 and go.
    • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @12:04PM (#21671491)

      From a time issue along. Left turns usually require red light wait, whereas many right turns just a stop, count 3 and go.
      I suppose in the case of a UPS truck, the truck will probably win most of the time, but the rest of us usually make sure nobody's coming instead of counting to 3.

  • by Morosoph ( 693565 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:23AM (#21670873) Homepage Journal
    You insensitive clod!
    • by mccalli ( 323026 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:33AM (#21671047) Homepage
      In case people don't know why the parent made that post - you can't make any sort of turn on red in the UK. Red means stop, and stop is what it means. No wiggle room.

      I remember driving in San Francisco, my first time driving in the US. I only got caught the once being beeped because I'd just stopped at red and didn't turn right although it was clear, but my other local transgression was a lot worse. We came up to some flashing red lights - I had no idea what they were for. There was one car in front of us before the lights, it stopped for a while and then went. I thought "ah ha - flashing red means stop and go if clear".

      It doesn't. It means "tram coming". I found this out at the end of the week we stayed there, suddenly realising I'd spent the entire week running red lights against trams...

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Probably depends on the locale. The flashing red light means exactly what you deduced where I live.
        • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @12:06PM (#21671531) Homepage Journal
          Single flashing red light is the same as a stop sign. Single flashing yellow is caution. This most commonly involves malfunctioning stop lights, though I've also seen them around schools and some other special areas where they want to be a little more obvious. Flashing yellow light with 'school zone' sign and a speed limit means that the lower speed limit is in effect while the light is flashing.

          Two horizontal red lights flashing alternately and various train crossing signs = stop, train is coming or passing.

      • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:41AM (#21671147)
        Yes, and we drive on the left in the UK. Which means that the turn which requires you to wait for a gap in traffic in two directions rather than just one is the right turn, not the left turn.
      • Well, two flashing right lights side by side means Train crossing. Usually there's a cross as well.

        One flashing red light (either single or because the light has malfunctioned) indicates you treat it as if it were a stop sign.

        Further, usually a traffic signal which has lost power completely is treated as an all way stop for all roads intersecting, but few people seem to realize (or care) about this rule.
    • Ah yes, turning right at red lights. The US' sole contribution to western society.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by PinkyDead ( 862370 )
      100% agree. If these silly Americans would only learn to drive on the correct side of the road, then they wouldn't have this problem.
  • by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:24AM (#21670879) Journal
    NASCAR turned them down on a discount ad deal....
  • Circle.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by ZiakII ( 829432 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:24AM (#21670885)
    If they enter a circle/roundabout do they get stuck in an infinite loop?
    • Only in the UK. In most other countries, roundabouts eliminate left turns, rather than making them mandatory. Actually, roundabouts are becoming increasingly popular in Germany.
    • We enter the few roundabouts we have to the right and exit to the right.
  • by tosh1979 ( 909809 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:25AM (#21670899)
    Who's idea was this? Derek Zoolander's?
  • You have never known nerve-racking until you have tried to merge left, or made a left turn in a USPS mail truck.
    • Can you hear me now? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RingDev ( 879105 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:40AM (#21671137) Homepage Journal
      After the .Com bubble burst left the IT market in shambles, us contractors were scrambling for work. One of the odd jobs I wound up with in that time frame was doing exactly what the "Can you hear me now? Good!" guy did. Only I had a car, multiple phones, and a lap top with some really cool software.

      I drove virtually every road from NW Chicago, to Door County Wisconsin, over to LaCrosse, and down to Iowa. And it only took a handful of days to start looking for route optimizations. We didn't have software to do it for us, we had state maps, plotter maps, and the laptop maps with GPS. Eliminating Left turns in busy areas, specifically those with out turn signals was always a high priority.

      I can imagine the problem would be even more significant for UPS drives because of the number of left turns they will have to make in uncontrolled intersections. Turning left on a 4-lane avenue with no traffic lights into driveways, frontage roads, parking lots, what ever, can be a PITA in a car, let alone a straight-truck. The amount of gas they can save from idling, and gunning it hard to clear traffic probably adds up to a significant amount over the length of the day.

  • by east coast ( 590680 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:26AM (#21670921)
    Left! [wikipedia.org]
    • I drove through Michigan last year and I thought the "Michigan Left" was a pretty clever idea. I absolutely loathe when people make left turns outside of designated left-turn-only lanes, because it completely screws up traffic for quite a distance behind them if there's any significant amount of traffic. I use the three rights technique myself, but the Michigan Left seemed like a more intuitive way to get other people out of the habit of blocking traffic.
    • by Barny ( 103770 )
      Pfft, thats nothing, try one of these [wikipedia.org]

      Never has one sign that is technically correct confused so many before, than the hook turn (note, left side driving here, 's what makes it so fun).
  • Heard this before (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ggeens ( 53767 ) <ggeens@iggDEGASyland.com minus painter> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:26AM (#21670925) Homepage Journal

    Last year, one of my coworkers told me the same story.

    He also said he knew a place that was virtually unreachable unless you took a left turn. It was not uncommon to see a UPS truck circle around the place a few times before they arrived.

  • Of course, this'll really screw them up when they try to apply it to their deliveries in the UK....
  • by Spritzer ( 950539 ) * on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:29AM (#21670975) Journal
    ...it seems FedEx has decided to cut costs simply by not delivering packages.

    Said FedEx spokesman Dewey Shippit, "We've found that there is a significant savings in randomly tossing packages into a large warehouse and not delivering them. The cost of delivering those packages far exceeds the cost of repeatedly 'issuing a trace' to locate the missing item."
  • by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:32AM (#21671025) Journal
    I generally plan my routes to avoid left turns. I have since I first learned to drive. However, if I must make a left turn, I find making it at a stop light with a turn lane is much faster, safer and easier than making a left turn without a light on a busy street. Stop lights also save more time and energy than stop signs. Maybe UPS should consider that next.
  • I hope the mapping software is better then online maps that are sometimes missing roads, tell you to get on and off the same highway many times in a roll in the same city.

    And what do they when the map tells them to make a trun that can't be made as the road may be set to block that trun and what about roads that are not yet on the map?

    The new part of I-355 is missing from all of the online maps.
  • by celnick ( 78658 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:40AM (#21671129) Homepage
    The routing software used by UPS, Fedex and USPS all can be used to minimize different turning directions. I used to work at Fedex home delivery and this would be a prime parameter for drivers with larger trucks. The software also can plot you to specific points during the day, like avoiding downtown during rush hour. Although it can minimize left turns, it sometimes makes you drive in circles to do so, makes you go far out of the way, down little streets (since like GPS it doesn't really know any better).

    The article is actually about how UPS is going to lessen global warming or some such silly thing like that. They aren't, the increased distance the route can plot makes you drive as long (it doesn't truly matter if your diesel truck is idling at a light or driving in a circle). It is, however, easier for a driver to make less left turns and probably has some sort of psychological effect on other drivers to not see them in the left lane.

    "Last year, according to Heather Robinson, a U.P.S. spokeswoman, the software helped the company shave 28.5 million miles off its delivery routes, which has resulted in savings of roughly three million gallons of gas and has reduced CO2 emissions by 31,000 metric tons."

    The software is excellent, it makes great routes, can cut down on any number of hassles, but seriously the main point is NOT to eliminate left turns. The software is meant to get more packages out, more quickly, to more people, with less drivers, and more profit.

    Silly NY Times writers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bazman ( 4849 )
      I remember using Arc/Info Version 4 in about 1990 and its routing software let you specify a 'turn impedance' at every node (junction), so that going from arc id 2 to arc id 4 would add a weight of 2.5, and going from arc id 2 to arc id 6 would add a weight of 5.6, or whatever. Each arc also has a weight for the length of time it takes to go along it, and then you just did your usual solve for minimum weight. We did this for ambulance travel times.

      Nice to see Fedex have dragged themselves into the 90s.
  • Nice idea, but... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MightyPez ( 734706 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:41AM (#21671145)
    I drove for UPS and will say I hope it works out. Any way to shave precious seconds off a delivery are welcomed.

    However, having used the DIAD IV system, I can't see it working out too well. If you're not familiar with it, DIAD is the little brown LCD screen you sign whenyou get a package and has all the stops a driver makes in his day organized in an order that is suppose to be the easiest and quickest. The problem is very rarely is it done right. So you'll be driving on 4th, and the next stop will be on the same end of 3rd. The problem is 3rd is a one way and if you turn on it you'll be hitting oncoming traffic. So you either need to swing around the block (wasteful use of time) or deliver it later via a different route.

    Fortunately nobody with half a brain relies on DIAD for their route info. A driver with enough experience will know their route and what stops to make when.

    With that being said, it was easily the worst job I ever had. I ran all day and barely ate. In a 2-3 week period I lost 15 pounds.
    • Re:Nice idea, but... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @12:49PM (#21672287)
      I would assume these systems get more accurate over time as more people use routing data.

      Also, besides simply waiting for the technology to mature, delivery companies in particular are in the perfect position to gather valuable routing data (instead of just taking whatever Navteq gives them). Using the GPS on their vehicles, they should be tracking how long it takes to traverse each stretch of road and each intersection or turn, all depending on the day of week, time of day, etc. A simple rule such as "prefer right turns at all intersections" is an OK start, but it could get so much more detailed.

  • ...when Figgis tells Freddy something along the lines of:

    "Red light, don't fight, turn right."

    It works in traffic, it works in life. Not all the time, mind you, but a lot more than you'd think.
  • before they plan?

    With a fleet of vehicles their size, the time and money saved by planning routes that try to eliminate left turns means big savings.
    There, fixed it for you.

    Somebody needs to use a spell checker. Something is either planned or unplanned. There is no "pre".
  • we plan our LIVES around not making left turns.
  • ...business to try optimizing turns. Daycare centers prefer to locate on the right side of the street exiting the residential area they primarily serve. That way you get the easy right turn when you're on your way to work and in a hurry, and wait for the left turn on the way home when you can afford the time.

  • by belthize ( 990217 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:48AM (#21671265)

          Congress was working up a bill that would retrofit all the roads in the
    US so we're either straight or turned right. The bill was dropped when
    they discovered the principle designer, MC Escher had pased away and nobody
    else was capable of drawing them.

  • by sm62704 ( 957197 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:50AM (#21671291) Journal
    I'm a wierdo [slashdot.org], but of course if I wasn't I wouldn't be on slashdot. Nerds aren't exactly "normal" now are we? At any rate, at three bucks per gallon I've been driving in such a manner to minimize my gas useage. It annoys my passengers, while I'm annoyed at the dimwits who race to the next red light, only to be sitting there making me stop at a green light.

    I found I wasn't unique, there is actually a name for people like me - "hypermilers". The EPA estimate on my large car (I'm not even a radical hypermiler) is 35 mpg on th ehighway, I can get 36 if I do 50MPH (which REALLY pisses people off, even though I stay in the right lane).

    Any way, left turns onto a highway do, indeed, use gas, particularly if there's heavy traffic. But at an intersection, particularly with a left turn arrow, it uses no more gas than a right turn. You have to use as much gas idling to wait for traffic turning right from a side street as you do waiting for traffic turning left on to a side street.

    But the seconds of idling don't use much gas at all. What REALLY uses gas is stopping, period. Every time you touch your brake you convert the kinetic energy you spent gas obtaining to heat and throw it away. If you're stopped completely you must overcome inertia, which takes even more energy.

    So when I take my foot off the gas when the light ahead turns red, coast to it, and am forced to stop behind your stupid ass at a green light because you zoomed around me racing to the red light, I'm blasting my horn, you rich damned dumbass. Waste your own damned gas but waste mine and I'm pissed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kailoran ( 887304 )
      Racing to a red light is definitely dumb, but doing 50MPH on a highway not only "annoys" other people, it contibutes towards more congestion and hence more total fuel usage. When you go slow, many drivers behind you will have to slow down if they are unable to pass you smoothly, in turn someone behind them will have to slow down as well, and suddenly you have a wave of slowness propagating back, ending in a traffic jam. So you might just be wasting a lot of other people's gas.

      And meanwhile, in Europe, p
    • by Neoprofin ( 871029 ) <neoprofin&hotmail,com> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @01:24PM (#21672965)
      You're going for fuel efficiency, many others or not.

      I'll be the first to tell you that most people who gun it between intersection and weave through traffic trying to go faster are just flailing their arms and panicking. They're not helping anyone, especially not themselves.

      However, if you're like me, and you travel the same routes day in and day out you start to see where problems occur. Well calculated lane changes to avoid things like probable stopped buses a block down and left turners without separate lanes can safe you very noticeable amount of time. Suddenly, racing past someone even if it means getting caught at the same light with them means that they're behind you when it all merges down to one lane. Instead of being stuck behind someone going 50mph on the highway, or more than likely 30mph, you're in a position to be in front of the person instead of behind them. Did it save gas? Don't know, don't care. Did it mean I could leave for work ten minutes later and not have to frustrated by slow person in front of me? Yep, and that's what I was looking for.
  • Old news? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Quixote ( 154172 ) * on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:54AM (#21671355) Homepage Journal
    It was on Digg [digg.com] more than a year ago. And we all know how prompt Digg is, so this is quite old news.
  • Zoolander? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Borealis ( 84417 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @11:58AM (#21671407) Homepage
    At least Derek Zoolander has a fallback career now if he can't model anymore.

If graphics hackers are so smart, why can't they get the bugs out of fresh paint?