Algorithm Maps The Most Beautiful Route To Where You're Going

It's easy to draw a line between two points. It's harder to find a route with scenery.

The most "beautiful" route between two points in Boston on the left. The quickest route, on the right.Quercia et al

If you want to find the most scenic route to get somewhere, there may soon be an app for that. Daniele Quercia and colleagues at Yahoo Labs in Barcelona have come up with a way to create a crowd-sourced measure of a city's beauty, and made an algorithm to find the prettiest way to get from one point to another. "The goal of this work is to automatically suggest routes that are not only short but also emotionally pleasant," the scientists told Technology Review:

Quercia and co begin by creating a database of images of various parts of the center of London taken from Google Street View and Geograph, both of which have reasonably consistent standards of images. They then crowd-sourced opinions about the beauty of each location using a website called UrbanGems.org. Each visitor to UrbanGems sees two photographs and chooses the one which shows the more beautiful location. That gives the team a crowd-sourced opinion about the beauty of each location. They then plot each of these locations and their beauty score on a map which they use to provide directions.

Quercia et al then got 30 actual human beings in London and another 54 in Boston to test out this internet-collected data, and the subjects agreed that the more beautiful areas--according to the program--were indeed more beautiful.

To add power to the algorithm, the team mined data from photos with GPS tags posted to Flickr, taking into account "positive emotions" ascribed to different locations, and also computing how many photos were taken in different places (not many people take photos of really drab or mediocre sites, as you might expect). They are currently working on a mobile app, to test in different cities in Europe and the U.S. Until then, you could just ask a real breathing resident what route they would suggest--but that would involve human interaction.