An App that Calculates the Most Beautiful Route

New in flaneur-enabling technology: a team of intrepid aesthetes in Barcelona is working on a new app that would advance GPS mapping tools by providing the most beautiful route to a destination, rather than the shortest or least congested route.
July 15, 2014, 6am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Those of us obsessed with the navigation and mapping powers of route-calculating apps will soon have more aesthetically-minded options for finding a route across town, thanks to the work of Daniele Quercia and friends at Yahoo Labs in Barcelona, Spain. An article in the MIT Technology Review explains that Quercia and team "have worked out how to measure the 'beauty' of specific locations within cities and then designed an algorithm that automatically chooses a route between two locations in a way that maximizes the beauty along it. 'The goal of this work is to automatically suggest routes that are not only short but also emotionally pleasant,' they say."

The team used a number of methods to collect data on which places in London are more, shall we say, fetching. First there was crowdsourcing via public opinion: "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 crowdsourced opinions about the beauty of each location using a website called UrbanGems.org." (StreetSeen is a similar system for crowd sourcing public reaction to cityscapes.)

The second involved scraping data from photo sharing sites like Flickr: "Crowdsourcing opinion for every possible location in a city is clearly a time-consuming and potentially expensive business. So Quercia and co have automated this process using photos from Flickr and the data and tags attached to them," and, "[factors] that turn out to be a good indicator of beauty are things like the number of pictures taken of a particular scene and comments associated with positive emotions."

As for choosing the more beautiful route, it might just take a little longer: "Quercia and co say that on average these routes turn out to be just 12 percent longer than the shortest routes, which makes them reasonable alternatives for a pedestrian."

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Published on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 in MIT Technology Review
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