The benefits of natural routes in route planning & optimization
Route planners often want the shortest path, but it’s time to look at how important natural ordering and routing is for best operational efficacy.
The main goal of preflight route planning and route optimization is to decrease the overall time and distance costs of your fleet when serving customers. As such, organizations often use distance metrics to gauge how desirable a route generated by a route planning program. However, natural looking routes are also of key importance when generating routes for your last-mile fleet. Here’s why.
The Human Factor
Let’s face it – our drivers are humans and will stay human for the immediate future. Unless you’re a giant conglomerate with a copious R&D budget to deploy an entire fleet of autonomous trucking vehicles, you need to design your operations with the human factor in mind.
Drivers need natural routes to follow, or they will not follow them, and you risk your drivers taking unnecessary detours. A research study conducted in Freiburg, Germany showed that pedestrian navigators themselves, despite planning out the route beforehand, made several spontaneous changes in their route when receiving contextual clues during the actual navigation process.
What other studies have found, is that humans naturally follow routes that have a sense of directional flow. In older route planning software using traditional greedy algorithms, the algorithm chooses the immediate closest stop for every stop it visits. This could result in very unnatural, zigzag looking routes as shown below.
Why are such zigzag routes bad?
Zigzag routes frequently exhibit many U-turns, which may disorient the driver. You also have to consider that, on average, vehicles spend more time waiting at the traffic junction to do a U-turn (more on that in the next section). For more natural route planning, route planning algorithms must consider that the immediate closest stop may not be the best choice in the long run.
The key to producing natural routes is that the routes must have a sense of flow and direction. This is illustrated below:
Immediately, you can see that it is easier to predict the general direction of the route is easier to visualize and identify with. Unlike the greedy algorithm, the natural routing does not leave “outliers” Your drivers are less likely to doubt your route manifest and are less likely to take unnecessary detours that could slow down the fulfilment process as a whole.
The Cost Factor
Even if you don’t care about your drivers, there is a cost factor that helps you choose natural routes over traditional greedy algorithms. In many jurisdictions, U-turns are a special maneuver that can only be legally (and safely) conducted if the traffic lights change into a certain combination. More U-turns, or generally speaking, more turns, will mean more time for your drivers waiting at the intersection for the traffic lights to change.
If your route planning program is overzealous in minimizing the road travel distance, they may end up generating awkward and unnatural routes that have a longer travelling time. You need a smarter route planning solution that can create these natural routes.
Try our Natural Route Planning today
ElasticRoute is an extremely fast and powerful routing engine that lets you save time and money planning your fleet’s deliveries. It is capable of solving large scale Vehicle Routing Problems (VRP) quickly and includes advanced features such as Dynamic Clustering and Natural Routing out-of-the-box.