Microsoft was recently issued a patent for Pedestrian Route Production, which sought to create a “route [that] can be developed for a person taking into account factors that specifically affect a pedestrian.”
Microsoft aimed to take route generation a step further for pedestrians beyond the simple estimated time it took to walk to your destination. However, you might be surprised to know what variables and information sources that Microsoft used for its algorithm: security information (i.e., crime reports), weather information, terrain information, or a combination of all three.
Only terrain information would be the most useful for such routing because we all know walking uphill takes longer than walking downhill. The other two variables are too subjective and help persuade people to refrain from using common sense. I know few people who don’t check weather forecasts regularly. While others have talked about Microsoft’s so-called “avoid ghetto” feature, I will instead discuss the Microsoft obvious omissions.
Among them is sidewalk information.
If you look at pedestrian accidents and deaths, many of them occur on streets that lack sidewalks or other pedestrian safety features. Anyone who has walked on city streets know that there are more hazards to pedestrians than crime. There are more variables that influence whether any particular area makes pedestrians feel unsafe, such as vehicle speed limits and street buffers (i.e., on-street parking, sidewalk plants or street trees). Are these variables included in Microsoft’s analysis? Nope. Street tree information would have also aided Microsoft’s desire to protect pedestrians from “harsh temperatures” as anyone who has walked outside when it’s hot knows to purposefully walk under trees or other shadows to avoid any direct sun exposure.
Microsoft tried to be innovative with its mapping technology, but I think engineers tried to be too innovative and forgot to design the features from the user’s perspective. I suggest that Microsoft research Safe Routes to School Programs to get a better understanding of the fundamental physical challenges that pedestrians must deal with in order to perfect its new pedestrian mapping tool.