Algorithm Will Tell All UPS Trucks Where to Go

Orion platform designed to optimize deliveries with best, most consistent routes
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 17, 2015 2:53 PM CST
Algorithm Will Tell All UPS Trucks Where to Go
Guide me, Orion.   (Shutterstock)

A UPS driver has, on average, 120 stops to make each day. But what's the most efficient route that driver can take? The company is hoping its Orion computer platform will solve this issue for its 55,000 US routes using an algorithm that examines travel costs, distance, and other factors to spit out not necessarily the optimal route, but the most reliably good one, the Wall Street Journal reports. "Customers and drivers like consistency," a UPS senior director of process management tells the Journal. "Orion has to know when to give up a penny to make the results more stable." This efficiency has become paramount as UPS struggles to compete with FedEx, boost earnings growth, and figure out a way to optimize the many residential stops it now makes.

Here's how an Orion-driven workday would go: A UPS driver would start by checking out her delivery information acquisition device (DIAD) to see the route Orion has chosen, which the system updates and recalculates based on factors like incoming orders and customer requests for specific delivery times—soon, it may even be able to do that while a driver is on the route. The system hasn't caught on with everyone—one driver, for instance, tells the Journal the system calculates routes with more left turns and backing up, which UPS drivers are discouraged from doing. But Orion engineers have been on training ride-alongs with drivers to see how the logic of the system is failing in real-world situations and are correcting the system based on those findings. CEO David Abney has said that once the system is fully implemented by 2017, it should save up to $400 million a year. (More UPS stories.)

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