New bee-inspired algorithm is ridiculously good at planning routes for delivery vehicles

routific bee algorithm delivery 8006921929 2057a4c8b1 o
Jim Smart
What does a bee’s “waggle dance” have to do with planning optimal delivery routes? For those of us who came up with the answer “almost certainly nothing,” that might explain why we’re not the brains behind Routific, a Vancouver-based startup which has developed a smart route optimization algorithm based on the way bees seek out nectar.

“Bees work in a colony,” Marc Kuo, founder and CEO of Routific, told Digital Trends. “They have scouts which go out to forage for nectar, which means exploring a lot of types of flowers over a long distance. As soon as a scout bee discovers a patch of flowers and returns to the hive with good quality nectar, it does a waggle dance to attract other bees which then go and explore that patch more closely.”

Inspired by this behavior, the algorithm Routific developed applies that concept to the world of logistics, by figuring out how a fleet of delivery vehicles can most optimally deliver packages to businesses or consumers. “The consumers are the flowers and the trucks are the bees,” Kuo continued. “What our algorithm figures out is the best route for the trucks to take to reach the consumers in a scenario where you might have 2,000 different addresses to deliver to and a fleet of 50 trucks. In that case, the question of how you sequence the delivery order to be optimal is incredibly complex.”

It’s essentially a variation on the long-studied “traveling salesman problem” — one of the best-known computer science algorithms, designed to figure out the optimal path between points. However, where the travelling salesman problem usually has only one salesman, in this case there are multiple different vehicles to consider.

“If you have just 57 addresses to deliver to, you already have more than a quattuorvigintillion possible route combinations,” Kuo continued. “That’s 1 with 75 zeroes after it. It’s impossible for humans to find the optimal route in that case, but even for an algorithm it’s next to impossible if you ask it to try every possible combination of routes in turn to figure out the best one. You need to be a bit more tactical about it — and that’s what bees have built into their nature, and we have built into our algorithm.”

Making things even tougher is the plethora of other challenges which need to be taken into account for deliveries, including whether a package needs to be delivered during a precise time window, the overall capacity of a truck, whether an item needs to be shipped in a refrigerated vehicle, and more.

Where the bee analogy comes into play is the way that the algorithm asks the computer to handle the searching task. “Our CPU is like a bee which has a bunch of areas it explores,” Kuo continued. “Whenever one area looks to be more promising, it gathers the attention of the other CPU power to direct more resources to that specific area to explore that specific search space a bit more. In that way we can find optimal routes, or routes that are very close to optimality, very, very quickly.”

It’s not just faster, either. Kuo also said that the routes his algorithm comes up with are typically 40-percent shorter than the manually planned routes many of his customers previously used. This has obvious positive impacts in terms of fuel savings, hours spent on the road, and the cost of vehicle maintenance. “In some cases we’ve even been able to take vehicles off the road because the original plan our customers have been working with have been so inefficient,” he said.

It’s no wonder Routific is creating a bit of a — dare we say it? — buzz.

Computing

If graphics cards don’t need it, what’s the point of PCIExpress 4?

AMD's upcoming Zen 2-based, Ryzen 3000 CPUs are backwards compatible, but they still have a new chipset, the X570, that introduces PCIE 4.0. The new standard has more bandwidth than anything needs, but it's still useful.
Photography

Tapped out? Edit faster with 5 gesture shortcuts in Lightroom CC on mobile

Missing those keyboard shortcuts when photo editing on a smartphone or iPad? Lightroom has a handful of gesture-based controls that can help fill the gaps, if you know where to find them.
Cars

Uber’s next self-driving car, a hat-wearing Volvo, will start testing in 2020

Volvo and Uber have unveiled their latest autonomous prototype. It's based on the second-generation XC90, and it's fitted with the self-driving technology Uber developed in-house.
Gaming

Destiny 2 to move to Steam, shift to free-to-play model starting with Shadowkeep

Destiny 2 will undergo massive changes with its latest expansion, Shadowkeep. The PC version of the game will transfer from Battle.net to Steam, and its base game will become free-to-play to give newcomers a new entry point.
Emerging Tech

Uber Eats’ drone delivery service could see Big Macs hit speeds of 70 mph

Uber Eats is testing meal delivery using drones. The company wants to start a commercial delivery service using the drone this summer, but it still needs permission from regulators.
Emerging Tech

A giant new solar farm in Texas will harness the sun’s rays to … brew beer?

Brewing beer is surprisingly energy intensive. With a giant new solar farm in Texas, the world’s largest beer manufacturer promises to brew 100% of its beverages using renewable energy.
Emerging Tech

This lifesaving wearable could diagnose strokes more accurately

A new breakthrough wearable device uses two light measurement techniques to track the body's blood circulation — and accurately predict deadly strokes in the process. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Sloshed drone pilots in Japan can now be punished with jail time

If you're flying a drone in Japan, better not be sloshed when you send your bird skyward. A new law passed this week could see drunk drone pilots sent to jail for up to a year or hit with a hefty fine.
Emerging Tech

Mount Everest is now home to the world’s highest weather station

A team of scientists has created a new record with the installation of the world’s highest weather station atop Everest. Data from the expedition will help researchers better understand the effect of climate change on the region.
Emerging Tech

This drone with hands looks like a nightmare straight out of Black Mirror

This unlikely drone-with-hands creation is the work of Federico Ciccarese, the brains behind YouBionic, a bionic hand project that has evolved far beyond its original brief. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

This crazy-looking robot uses microspines on its legs to climb up walls

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have built a bioinspired robot, which uses microspines on its feet to grip onto rough surfaces. This allows it to climb up very steep gradients. Check it out.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Florida’s autonomous vehicle law, E3 updates, and more

On this episode of DT Live, we take a look at the biggest trending stories in tech, including Florida allowing fully autonomous vehicles on the road, Atari’s new gaming system, E3 updates, high-speed rail, and more.
Emerging Tech

Got $400 million to burn? The world’s largest airplane is up for sale

Stratolaunch, the world's largest airplane, is up for sale. All it'll cost you is $400 million dollars. The brainchild of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the plane was supposed to make space travel more accessible and affordable.
Emerging Tech

Ex astris, scientia: Star Trek logo spotted on the surface of Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been boldly going to Mars and capturing images since 2005, and now it has spotted something where no man has gone before: a structure on the planet's surface which will look familiar to Trekkies.