For Big Impact Quantum Computers would need to Improve on UPS Orion Type Systems

Arguably the world’s largest operations research project, ORION uses expansive fleet telematics and advanced algorithms to gather and calculate countless amounts of data to provide UPS drivers with optimized routes. [UPS Orion background information]

Each business day, UPS drivers deliver between 125 and 175 packages. The number of route combinations a driver can make is far greater than the number of nanoseconds the earth has existed. To ensure UPS drivers use the most optimized delivery routes in regard to distance, fuel and time, UPS developed On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation (ORION).

The ORION program is the result of a long-term operational technology investment and commitment by UPS that will be more than a decade in the making from the initial development of the algorithm to full deployment to nearly all 55,000 routes in the North American market by 2017. 2013 marked the first major ORION deployment by a team of 500 dedicated resources to rollout ORION to 10,000 UPS routes. As results are exceeding expectations, in 2014 UPS increased the ORION team to 700 to speed deployment to 45% of US routes by the end of the year.

Results with ORION

With 10,000 routes optimized with ORION, UPS saves more than 1.5 million gallons of fuel and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 14,000 metric tons. Initial results show miles reduced with each route using ORION and a reduction of just one mile per driver per day over one year can save UPS up to $50 million.

In 2014, 24,000 routes will be optimized with ORION, nearly half of all US routes.

Dwave Systems will be commercially releasing an 1152 qubit quantum annealing system. The Dwave System had exceeded the capabilities of classical computers in some very narrow situations with their 512 qubit system. If Dwave or other quantum computers can improve the overall logistical results for large companies there will be significant economic impact.

[Wall Street Journal] “The project was nearly killed in 2007, because it kept spitting out answers that we couldn’t implement,” Mr. Levis recalls. The earliest versions of Orion focused on getting the best mathematical results, with insufficient regard for the interests of the driver or the customer, who value some level of routine. For example, regular business customers who receive packages on a daily basis don’t want UPS to show up at 10 a.m. one day, and 5 p.m. the next. And a customer who is expecting a shipment of frozen food needs delivery as soon as possible, even if efficiency demands that someone gets priority.

Orion balances consistency and optimality. It had to do with keeping the driver in a path. The route should flow. That is what we learned. That is what brings consistency. Orion can make exceptions to the flow, but it has to do so in an intelligent manner and it can’t make an unlimited number of exceptions,” Mr. Levis said.

Drivers could refrain from using Orion if there is a traffic event that the system can’t factor. [Nextbigfuture notes that Google’s Waze has real time traffic information]

UPS engineers are already enhancing Orion so it will update delivery schedules while drivers are on the road, useful in a situation in which a driver might abandon Orion’s instructions because of an unexpected road closure due to an accident, but want to resume using Orion later in the day. Upcoming versions also will include turn-by-turn driving instructions—not yet part of the system.

SOURCES- UPS, Wall Street Journal, DWave Systems