Maps App Algorithm Lets Users Take Scenic Route

Researchers at Yahoo in Barcelona are developing an application that encourages users to enjoy the journey


You have probably heard the famous saying, “Life is a journey, not a destination”. Researchers at Yahoo are taking this philosophy on-board in a maps app that encourages people to take the most beautiful, rather than the quickest, route from A to B.

Map apps usually provide the shortest route to a destination, focusing entirely on speed instead of the emotional experience of the journey. By rushing to get to places as fast as possible, we are missing out on uplifting views and picturesque spots that would add just a couple of extra minutes to our travel time.

Barcelona-based Yahoo researchers Daniele Quercia, Rossano Schifanella and Luca Maria Aiello have developed a maps app that encourages people to take alternative routes to enrich their daily lives. In a paper called The Shortest Path to Happiness, they put forward their premise for a new type of map:

When providing directions to a place, web and mobile mapping services are all able to suggest the shortest route. The goal of this work is to automatically suggest routes that are not only short but also emotionally pleasant.

While the idea of taking the scenic route isn’t new, this is the first time we’ve seen a maps app take into account the emotional needs of the user.

What’s more, the researchers demonstrate that algorithms can be used to quantify concepts that would appear to be subjective, such as beauty and happiness. To do this, they first analysed what makes a journey scenic by using a crowd-sourcing platform.

“To quantify the extent to which urban locations are pleasant, we use data from a crowd-sourcing platform that shows two street scenes in London (out of hundreds), and a user votes on which one looks more beautiful, quiet, and happy”, adds The Shortest Path to Happiness.

Any location that received more than 3.3k votes was added to a map of the city with locations rated by emotion. Unsurprisingly, users found interesting architecture and picturesque streets more appealing that busy thoroughfares.

Often, the scenic spots were just around the corner from the busiest routes.

“Based on a quantitative validation, we find that, compared to the shortest routes, the recommended ones add just a few extra walking minutes”, the paper explains.

The researchers then tested the findings by considering Flickr data of over 3.7m pictures of London and 1.3m of Boston. They created an algorithm that sorts photos according to the standards of beauty defined by the crowd-sourced votes. When tested on people in both cities, participants preferred the journeys generated by this application to the shortest routes.

Instead of evaluating routes by speed and efficiency, this maps app evaluates them by beauty and the positive feelings that they inspire. This is a new and refreshing way to think about travel, one that puts people first and that understands that the journeys we take have an impact on our emotional wellbeing.

The Shortest Path to Happiness

[h/t] BGR

Images: Sunset Over the London Acquarium by Lies Thru a Lens, Flickr and Boston Skyline from the Prudential Skywalk by Bill Damon, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

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