The technology behind route planning software

Tech and Tools   |   
Published December 19, 2020   |   

A good number of transportation and delivery businesses use apps like Google Maps or Waze for their route planning. This is often seen with food delivery services such as DoorDash, transportation services like Grab and Uber, or even very small courier companies with less than 10 drivers.

A simple GPS navigation app can suit those businesses just fine, where passengers are brought directly to destinations, or only a few local deliveries are made. For larger courier businesses however, a more optimal solution is necessary to planning route logistics. In this article, we’ll examine the technology behind route planning software.

Why route planning software is more than GPS navigation

Three Chimney Farm is a vegetable delivery company that started out making local business-to-business deliveries. The majority of their vegetable deliveries were directly to local restaurants, with a small remainder of orders going to individual customers that would place orders on-line, and schedule their own pickups at a few locations.

Once Three Chimney Farm’s business started growing, and they added a subscription service model, they started making around 40 deliveries in a single day, split up between two drivers. It was obvious that more than just GPS navigation was going to be necessary, so they started using specialised route planning software to optimise their delivery routes.

Delivery drivers can only plan out a route with 10 stops via Google Maps. The addresses need to be manually entered into Google Maps, and the route needs to be optimized manually by hand.

For a single delivery truck making between 100 – 200 stops per day, planning out optimal deliveries using Google Maps or Waze would be a logistics nightmare. And that’s just one delivery truck, so imagine trying to plan routes for an entire company fleet.

Route planning software offers much more than GPS tracking and navigation, so let’s look at some of the technology that makes it so.

The technology and features in route planning software

The best route planning software has multiple functions that integrate with a courier delivery business. For example, in Google Maps you would need to manually enter addresses and optimize routes by hand.

Route planning software can automatically import addresses from your database, such as while package labels are scanned, and then use cloud-based AI algorithm technology to create the most efficient routes for the fastest delivery times and least fuel consumption.

Furthermore, routes can be changed on the fly. For example, if a driver calls out sick, or roads are heavily congested with traffic and detours, this information can be added to the route planning software and the routes will be recalculated instantly.

Another useful feature is letting dispatchers know exactly where drivers are, not just on a real-time map, but in context to their deliveries. So a customer may call asking to know the exact ETA of their package, and the dispatcher can easily find the package in transport, and how far along it is towards the destination.

Route planning software like Circuit includes integrated customer-facing functions so they never need to call you in the first place, these kinds of updates are automatically sent to the package recipient.

The algorithms in route planning software are typically proprietary, though usually involve integer programming methods and heuristics. Many vendors claim to be able to compute optimal routes in one to five minutes, for planning around 50 routes with 1,000 stops and 2 hour windows.

Thus it’s important for this type of software to have very fast computation times, particularly because of real-time interfaces, and needing to make adjustments on the go.