Paths

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I was brainstorming for a while on the way home from class, concerning the paths that humans naturally decide to take to get from point a to point b. I have consciously considered this way back sense middle school, and have tried to make my walking path as efficacy as possible, basically, a straight line.
However after careful analysis I have unfortunately found that as much as a try, the moment I take my mind off of this plan.. my feet start to wander, and ( I assume ) revert back to a natural style of path finding. I move in a slight curve one way or the other.. depending on… lots of parameters perhaps.
Humans, when you get down to it, are more than intelligent enough to be frustratingly random and unpredictable, but the beauty of randomness is that with a bit of statistics, you can actually predict general trends.
I think that when it comes to choosing a path to travel, the standard deviation is much less, because it is considered a simple natural thing to do, almost like… we were born knowing how to choose a path. And when you consider the more basic human trends.. we tend to act more and more similar.. the less we think about something. If you consider that this lower mental state, is one that can be found in most animals, then this tends to agree with my theory as well, as careful study of their paths shows that they all act extremely similar, and most are very predictable.
So here are some basic ideas… I believe that finding out the path that humans will take can be done mathematically and programmatically. We all know that humans don’t naturally make sharp turns, our bodies are not build to move like this, when you come to a hallway, you don’t just stop and make a 90 degree turn, even though it would be more efficient, you instead naturally keep your momentum and move in a arc. However, I do not want to focus on the paths that people take… when there is already a path laid down before them, people tend to follow what others have done before, and this removes the effect that I am interested in.
So consider and instance where humans break away from what is paved down before them, and see how they act. I believe based on the direction they have started facing, and the direction of the location they want to go, they choose a arc based on their velocity and a natural constant to face that direction. Though.. this is not precise. From a long distance away from your target, you only turn enough to get within a certain constant range that makes you feel like you are sufficiently heading towards your target, and this gets more and more refined as you get closer to your target. This effect is based upon our vision and perception.
Furthermore.. variations in the slope of the surface you are traveling across also naturally (subconsciously) affect your path. Humans tend to follow the easier path in a downward slope as much as they can take advantage of it, similar to how race car tracks are tilted at the curves to allow sharper turns.
Now of-course, if you are considering a path that is obstructed, there is also some math that goes into how you naturally avoid running into a tree, without even thinking about it. I believe allot of this is based upon your natural vision horizon, how much you hold your head up and look ahead, and what you believe to be way points in your path.
This is a field that I believe more effort and study should be devoted to understanding. We are in a age where technology and industry are dramatically shaping our lives. Most every path you take is laid down before you, paved sidewalks, straight hallways, roads, etc. For people new to cities, this.. natural effect takes a toll on how comfortable they are, and even more so the longer they remain, they need a way “out”. This natural path being constrained is why i believe people prefer a wide open country to a city. Based on whatever more hard research provides, the level of comfort of humans can be improved by placing objects that feel like way points, or obstructions, or changes in elevation, to help bring together the paths humans feel natural, to the ones they need to take. This also has military advantages as well. If an enemy is moving from one point to another, sure you can take their velocity into consideration and bomb along that trajectory, but if you had a precise way to know the exact curve they would take, you could improve accuracy , reducing the area of effect needed, and thus the cost of weapons used. In guerrilla warfare this would be especially handy, where strategically placing obstructions would naturally allow you to precisely choose the arcs troops take.
More precise math behind natural effects would also greatly improve cinema, making fly overs feel more natural and less dizzy or uncomfortable, or any camera path for that matter. Not to mention the improvements and the feel of reality when programming artificial intelligence.

So yeah… that was my brain this morning.. takes a hell of allot longer to squeeze it out onto a keyboard than I hoped it would.

7 Comments

  1. i somtimes grab on corners to speed up my turns… <..>

  2. erm, lame HTML filter fucked up my comment…
    second try:

    i somtimes grab on corners to speed up my turns… (.(

    i also lean like a race motorcycle too… ).)

  3. Here’s a good survey of pathfinding algorithms. It’s used alot in gaming to help NPCs navigate. DARPA also has a competition to bring these elements together in a vehicle.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shortest_path_algorithm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pathfinding

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DARPA_Grand_Challenge

    • Yeah this is all very good stuff. But the focus of them is very different. They are covering the goal of.. just being able to choose a correct path.. where the ideal situation is the most efficient path.

      I am much more interested in the *natural patterns that humans take, instead of the most efficient path that would make the most logical sense.

  4. That would make some interesting psychometric experiments.

  5. There was actually some study done where they were laying out the sidewalks at a new college. What they did was lay sod and grass over the whole area, then at the end of a couple of years, pave the pathways people ended up making through the grass. Turned out about like you would expect from your considerations – the pathways were not necessarily the most direct, but it did make people more comfortable.

    • That is awesome! What college? I would like to check out the arial google maps photos.


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