If you had to hand-deliver 50 packages, how would you go about planning the best route?
That’s a theoretical problem mathematicians and computer scientists have long tussled with, and you might even be familiar with the… · More traveling-salesman problem yourself. Simply put, it asks: given a list of locations and the distances between them all, what is the shortest possible route that visits each location once and returns to the origin? Clearly, solving that problem is an attractive proposition for any e-commerce business that delivers goods, because it means lower fuel costs and fewer drivers.
But there’s a hitch: the problem gets very hard, very quickly. “If one single driver has to go to 57 stops, you already have a quattuorvigintillion possible combinations,” explains Marc Kuo, the CEO of the Vancouver-based route optimization startup Routific. “That’s a one with 75 zeros.” Existing computer systems would take days or weeks to evaluate every possible route. Instead of seeking perfection, then, firms must find smart approaches to improve their routes as much as possible.