Route planning software

· technology ·

In preparation for our trip to Leek, we tried to plan the best route using various online route planning sites. I tried Multimap first, but that didn't give an overview map of the whole route at a sensible scale, making it difficult to check the route with our road atlas. Next, I tried the AA, but I got trapped in a Javascript dialogue loop (it reported a script error, but pressing the OK button just spawned the same dialogue again) and I had to force quit Safari to get out of it.

Finally, I tried Maporama. It has a nice uncluttered interface, and produced a good overview map along with some clear turn-by-turn instructions. In a nice touch, there is a link to format the route for printing which gets rid of the spurious junk and gives you a more detailed map. I wouldn't rely on it for details of journey timeâ€"it suggested that Oxford to Leek would take 1h50m, but it was closer to 3h30m. I'm no Colin McRae, but that is wildly inaccurate. There's another problem with the kind of directions you get from software — it isn't really compatible with the way that humans navigate.

For example, when the directions include a roundabout, the instructions say something like, "Turn left, follow A515 for 263m; Turn left, follow the roundabout for 45m; Turn left, follow the A515 for 2.5km". The human version would be, "take the third exit on the roundabout, signposted Cheadle A515". It's no use to anyone to know that you have to travel 45m on the roundabout — you need a system which gives you relative instructions, leaving out the superfluous information on distance. I wonder if it would be possible to write software which would output 'human-meaningful' directions? I've never used GPS in-car navigation systems, but my impression is that they do use just this style of relative referencing.