Sometimes it's preferable to take the scenic route to a destination rather than the shortest. It's not an option available on online maps, but a new concept has shown that it could be. Yahoo researchers, in collaboration with the University of Turin, have found a way to quantify the beauty of different places and use the data to give directions.

The research, headed up by Daniele Quercia at Yahoo Labs, sought to find a way to suggest routes that are emotionally pleasing. In addition to providing routes that are beautiful, it can provide routes that are quiet or that evoke happiness.

"Our research goal was to study how people psychologically perceive the urban environment, and to capture that in a quantitative fashion," explains Quercia to Gizmag. "As researchers, we’re fascinated by urban studies and the way we can improve people’s experiences in our cities."

The researchers first crowdsourced opinions from people comparing images of two different places against each other. Participants were shown images of two locations and asked to select the one they deemed more beautiful, or quiet or "happy." They were also asked to estimate the proportion of other participants who shared the same view, helping to increase the detail of the data collected.

Votes from 3,300 people were taken into account in the initial study and the locations were graphed based on their pleasantness in relation to each other. In addition, the team used metadata from over 3.7 million pictures of London and 1.3 million of Boston to populate the tool.

Routes are then generated based on the data collected. The team found that the recommended routes did add a few extra walking minutes compared to the shortest routes, but were "indeed perceived to be more beautiful, quiet, and happy."

"General mapping tools could greatly benefit from this research," says Quercia. "Imagine having a mapping app that is able to recommend a nice, pleasant detour that would be a couple of minutes longer than the shortest route. That simple technological modification might well contribute in changing the way engineering products are designed. Often they are designed with the concept of efficiency in mind. But, being more efficient does not necessarily make us happier."

Quercia and his team are currently at the prototype stage. A variety of technologies have been used to build specific components, such as the assignment of the beauty scores, working out a route and creating the map. The researchers plan to continue looking at ways to collect user feedback and to improve their algorithm.

Source: Yahoo Labs