October 15, 2016

Man vs machine: Can you beat Google?

Over the last year, we’ve explained Beeline and the concept of “fuzzy navigation” to hundreds of people, and tested it out with loads too. Almost without fail, when people try if for themselves, they come back with a big grin on their face. They find it liberating, fun and engaging. However, before trying it, some people’s reactions can be quite nervous. They worry about what will happen to them if left to their own devices without clear turn-by-turn instructions? “Won’t I get stuck down dead ends?” “What if I go the wrong way down a one way street?”

A good friend’s reaction to this was to say “duh, you’ve got eyes haven’t you? Look at the road signs!” Right though she may be, we thought we’d try and demonstrate this a little more tactfully by showing you a few examples of real life routes vs those Google navigation would suggest, and by letting you pit yourself against Google with a little game.

So first of all, a few real routes. To check this whole fuzzy navigation concept worked we tracked a lot of our own cycling routes, and those of people we sent out on test rides. Below are a few examples of how they compare to the Google routes (with Google set on cycling mode). Beeline actually performs better! Of course it doesn’t do this on its own – you have think a little about the decisions you make, but that’s what makes it fun and engaging. You’ll also notice that whereas the Google routes stick to busy major roads, the Beeline track often ends up winding through quiet, interesting little alleyways. It would be unfair to say that it’s perfect every time, so with that in mind we’ve added Beeline’s worst ever ride: Tom getting stuck without a bridge to cross the Thames and ending up riding twice the distance he would have done with Google. However, this is why we do testing – to find the failings so we can fix them. So it’s to solve exactly this problem that we’re adding in the waypoint feature so if you know there’s a major obstacle like a river between you and your destination then you can add a waypoint (e.g. a bridge). The next step will be to make Beeline even smarter so that it recognises when you’re crossing a river or other large obstacle and automatically guides you around it. It’s just one of the software improvements we’ll be working on after the big Kickstarter launch!

This was Jeremy, one of Beeline’s first guinea pigs, riding from the Green Coat Boy Pub in Westminster Back to Tom’s house. Beeline comes in at 1.5 miles after a meander through the back streets of Westminster. Google gets 1.6 miles.

This time was Tom going from Paddington Gardens in Marylebone right across central London to Broadway Market. Beeline really came up trumps here, shaving a full half mile off Google’s recommended 5.9 mile route

Here we have Mark finding his way from Waterloo to the Founders Forum Office in Kensington. Mark’s route tracked at 4.1 miles vs Google’s recommended route of 4.5 miles. Google did have a slightly shorter back up up its sleeve but even this was 0.3 miles longer than following Beeline.

Here’s the exception that proves the rule. Without direction to a bridge in East London, Tom managed to turn a 4.4 mile Google route into an 8.1 mile ride, getting caught out by the river. You live and learn – as a result of a few occasions like this we’re building in waypoint functionality to make sure this doesn’t happen to you!

That’s a taster of how Beeline’s done in testing, but the best way to discover how well it can work is to try it for yourself. Go to mapmyride.com, try drawing your own route and see if you can get a shorter one than Google’s suggestions. Make sure you have both set to cycling so you can’t cheat!

Here’s one to get you started: Caravan (11 Exmouth Market) to Freestate Coffee (23 Southampton row). Google’s route is exactly 1 mile. Can you do better?

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