Monthly Archives: January 2017

Why UPS drivers don’t turn left and you probably shouldn’t either

Graham Kendall, University of Nottingham

It might seem strange, but UPS delivery vans don’t always take the shortest route between stops. The company gives each driver a specific route to follow and that includes a policy that drivers should never turn through oncoming traffic (that’s left in countries where they drive on the right and vice versa) unless absolutely necessary. This means that routes are sometimes longer than they have to be. So, why do they do it?

Every day, along with thousands of other companies, UPS solves versions of the vehicle routing problem. In these mathematical problems, you are given a set of points and the distances between them, and you have to find the best route(s) to travel through all of them. Best is usually defined as the route with the shortest overall distance.

Vehicle routing problems are used to organise many things, from coping with more delivery trucks in cities and hailing taxis to catching chickens on a farm. The concept was introduced by George Dantzig in 1959. Over 50 years later, and despite a large body of scientific research, scientists are still looking for new ways to tackle the problem.

Vehicle routing problems involve finding the best route between points.
Wikipedia Commons

UPS have moved away from trying to find the shortest route and now look at other criteria to optimise the journey. One of their methods is to try and avoid turning through oncoming traffic at a junction. Although this might be going in the opposite direction of the final destination, it reduces the chances of an accident and cuts delays caused by waiting for a gap in the traffic, which would also waste fuel.

UPS have designed their vehicle routing software to eliminate as many left-hand turns as possible (in countries with right-hand traffic). Typically, only 10% of the turns are left turns. As a result, the company claims it uses 10m gallons less fuel, emits 20,000 tonnes less carbon dioxide and delivers 350,000 more packages every year. The efficiency of planning routes with its navigation software this way has even helped the firm cut the number of trucks it uses by 1,100, bringing down the company’s total distance travelled by 28.5m miles – despite the longer routes.

It seems incredible that not turning left can lead to such significant savings. The TV series Mythbusters tested this idea and confirmed that, despite many more turns, the policy of only turning right does save fuel. In their one truck experiment they travelled further, but when you scale this up to a global level, UPS really does travel fewer miles in total.

The success of UPS’s policy raises the question, why don’t we all avoid turning left (or right, depending on what country we’re in), as we drive around cities on our daily commutes? If everyone did it, the carbon savings would be huge and there’d probably be far less congestion.

The problem is that not every journey would be made more efficient by following this strategy, and most people are likely only to change their driving style if they personally benefit.

Driver’s dilemma

As with anything related to reducing climate change, if everybody else did it then things would get better and you wouldn’t have to change your lifestyle at all to benefit. But it only needs a few people to not cooperate and the whole system breaks down.

This is a good example of the prisoner’s dilemma, the famous game theory problem. If everybody cooperated then the system as a whole would be much better, but the best thing for an individual when everyone else is cooperating is to be uncooperative and reap the rewards of everybody else’s sacrifices.

So, if you cannot persuade people to always turn right (or left) for the benefit of everyone, it might be down to governments to encourage or even enforce the strategy. For example, we could plan roads that make it more difficult to turn through the traffic. It would take a brave city planner to implement this, but if UPS can save 10m gallons of fuel, how much could a whole city or even a whole country save?

Graham Kendall, Professor of Computer Science and Provost/CEO/PVC, University of Nottingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is FIFA expanding the football World Cup for the good of the game?

Roy Hay, Deakin University

FIFA’s decision to increase the number of countries taking part in the final tournament for its World Cup has provoked a predictable range of responses from those involved in football. The Conversation

From 2026 there will be 48 countries in the final tournament instead of 32. They will take part in 16 groups of three, with the top two in each moving directly to a knockout phase. The number of matches played will go up from 64 to 80, though the tournament will still be completed in 32 days, as it is now.

Each member association has been promised more money from the increased revenue the tournament is forecast to generate. Whatever the amount, it means much more to the smaller and less affluent of FIFA’s 211 member nations than to the European and South American superpowers.

Coming in for criticism

The main objections raised are that the decision has been made on financial and/or political rather than footballing grounds. More countries taking part means more games and more money from sponsors, media rights and fans.

There is a fear that the standard of play in the early stages will be lower, and opportunities for collusion in the final game – to ensure qualification for the next round – in the group stages will increase.

In the long run, it is claimed, this will decrease interest and involvement in the tournament. But this opinion is not shared by former Scotland manager Craig Brown, who points out that the Europeans have increased their football championship tournament numbers from eight to 24 since 1992 – with no related drop in interest levels.

The logistics of hosting the tournament will put it beyond the reach of most countries. Even the US, the overwhelming favourite to host the 2026 tournament, may have to look for partners to assist. Joint hosting with Mexico and Canada has been mooted, though perhaps Donald Trump’s wall might get in the way.

Critics also fear that the underlying problems of corruption at FIFA have not been tackled, and that hosting decisions in future may not be made in terms of the technical quality of the bids.

That is a real concern. While a reform process is underway within FIFA, it is far from complete, and the impetus to continue seems to be waning. Much of the driving force behind the anti-corruption movement has come from the US, and Trump may not be a keen supporter.

What are expansion’s potential implications?

Only eight teams have won the World Cup since it began in 1930 – five from Europe and three from South America. It is not clear how increasing the numbers of teams in the final tournament will change the fundamental influence on the game of these parts of the world.

The concentration of the world’s playing talent in Europe’s major leagues, where club competitions dominate, will remain.

Recently, it seemed China might be threatening that hegemony with obscene levels of spending on foreign players and coaches. But even its football-loving head of state has seen the cost of that strategy and called a halt to it.

Down the track, however, China is a possible future host of the tournament if it can raise the standard of its national team.

The implications for Australia are minimal. The number of places in the final tournament for countries from the Asian Football Confederation will increase, but by how many remains to be decided. As the standard rises in Asia, Australia will find it harder to qualify, as it is finding under the current regulations.

One local commentator, Mike Cockerill, has suggested Australia might consider rejoining the Oceania Confederation, which might guarantee a place at last. But that assumes Australia will always beat New Zealand, and it has failed to do that in the past.

More relevant is the fact that, apart from the Kiwis, there is no country in Oceania that would draw a crowd similar to that of matches against the top teams in Asia.

The chances of Australia ever being able to host the World Cup final tournament, always tiny, have now become even slimmer. The only hope might be a joint bid with the other countries of Southeast Asia.

If Australia really wants to be accepted as a participant in the Asian Football Confederation, this is an area where the interests of the game and national political considerations might align. So far, football in Australia has not exploited the potential the game has to open doors and advance our common interests with our northern neighbours.

Roy Hay, Honorary Fellow, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.