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The Birmingham Canal Navigation Challenge | A "Travelling Salesman"-type Problem

Tue, 13/05/2014 - 10:40 - 11:00

Birmingham, England, is proud of its canal network, which is more extensive and heavily interconnected than that of Venice. A heritage of the industrial revolution, it once carried the fuel, raw material and products of Britain's industrial heartland. Nowadays, the network is home to recreational users of the traditional narrowboats which are characteristic of this type of waterway across the United Kingdom. Each year, Birmingham hosts a unique competition in which boats have twenty four hours of continuous cruising to accrue points, which are awarded on the basis of locks used, miles traveled and subject to complex multipliers based on the remoteness of the canal and locations visited - this is the Birmingham Canal Navigation Challenge.

As a regular crew member of the Tawny Owl, the author has become used to a disappointing mid-field performance. But this is the travelling salesman problem - surely access to an optimisation code must offer some opportunities? So for 2013 I coded the network into Excel, hooked up modeFRONTIER and came up with a cruising plan which blew away the competition by a wide margin. It was necessary to consider robustness with respect to variations in cruising speed and lock timings, and I suppose also demonstrates the flexibility of modeFRONTIER, and that answers are not always intuitively obvious.

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