The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Ario Keshani, chief executive officer of Split Technology, a carpool and ridesharing company based in Washington, D.C. Keshani discussed how “algorithm-driven transportation” can offer substantial benefits for commuters, as well as how open data was instrumental in launching the company’s operations.
This interview has been edited.
Joshua New: Split uses an algorithm to determine the most efficient routes for all of the passengers in a carpool. How does this process work?
Ario Keshani: All vehicles in the Split fleet are routed in real time when we receive new ride requests. We built our algorithm with the goal to balance high quality of service and efficiency of the system. When we make a ride offer to a new passenger, we give him or her an estimated pickup time as well as an arrival time-window and our goal when matching new riders is to never break the promise we made to a current rider. As a result, our passengers know what to expect when a shared ride happens.
Additionally, when routing our vehicles, we take into account real time traffic to make time estimates for the routing. This part is crucial because it allows us to accurately determine whether we can add new passengers to a current route without ruining the arrival times for current passengers.
New: Other than convenience, what are some of the benefits of algorithm-driven transportation?
Keshani: One of the biggest benefits of algorithm-driven transportation is that it creates natural efficiencies. This results in cheaper prices for consumers, less traffic, and fewer carbon emissions, all of which are real, quality-of-life factors in cities across the world. Our drivers are able to move through the city much more efficiently because of intelligent routing. A computer, with the right amount of data, will always make better routing decisions than a human. We work hard to make sure our routing algorithm is designed to account for as much data as possible, including taking into account things like red lights, the “cost” of making a turn, and average speeds. When people drive more efficiently, they use less gas and spend less time on the road.
New:Do you think Split would have been possible without open data?
Keshani: We have certainly leveraged open data in the preparation and launch of our service in D.C., and we are thankful that there has been so much data made public by the city—map data in particular—that we could use to create a more efficient service to move people around the city. We hope other cities in the United States and around the world will make their data so accessible.
New: Right now, Split just operates in Washington, D.C. Could Split set up shop in other cities that also have open mapping data?
Keshani: We have designed our technology with scalability and universal applicability in mind, so we would certainly be able to launch our service in other cities. Open mapping data would help give us more local knowledge and expertise.
New: What do you see for the future of Split? Could it eventually incorporate other modes of transportation or other data sources?
Keshani: As I mentioned, Split’s technology is designed to balance quality of service and system efficiency. This means that our technology can be used for other modes of flexible transportation, such as package delivery. There will be interesting operational and customer-service challenges to solve in the different modes of transportation, but from a technological standpoint, we expect it to be feasible.
Delivery may be a long way off, but it is something we are thinking about. The more efficient the routing system, the cheaper it is to deliver things, whether they be items or people. This could fundamentally change the lives of a lot of people. If, for example, a busy lawyer forgets a document at home, she can ask her husband to “split” it over to her for barely the cost of a public transit ride.
And actually, Split’s technology was first implemented in Finland to route minibuses on-demand. It’s now run under a service called Kutsuplus, which launched in 2012, which is operated by the Helsinki Regional Transit Authority.