Mapping Indian addresses and managing Indian logistics

by on March 9, 2016 at 2:48 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Law, Web/Tech | Permalink

A startup named Delhivery has hired more than 15,000 staff, from developers to executives poached from Facebook and posh consultancies. Its headquarters in Gurgaon are so packed that engineers spill onto an outdoor porch, tapping their keyboards furiously. Delhivery, which works with a number of e-commerce firms, is using machine learning to subdivide India’s postcodes, the better to map idiosyncratic descriptions. “We’ll know the house with the yellow door next to the temple,” says Sandeep Barasia, the managing director. The company moves goods to 700 or so small distribution centres overnight to avoid congested main roads during business hours. Thousands of delivery boys then dash to and from the distribution centres throughout the day, bearing more than 20 kilos on their bikes.

That is from The Economist, a good article throughout.

1 Roy LC March 9, 2016 at 3:12 am

That was really interesting, but how exactly did addresses with numbers come about in the first place? You can see some of this process in older cities but my great great grandfather grew up in a numbered house, so how exactly did it happen? In cities in India they already have a system, they just need to impose it, but its origin in Europe and America is something I never thought of before.

Can anyone can recommend any literature?

2 Ricardo March 9, 2016 at 8:15 am

Not knowing any literature on the subject, I looked at this Wikipedia article:

Apparently, formal systems of house numbering started in Europe in the 18th century. Many Asian countries do not have such a formal, organized system and I think one of the reasons why is extremely rapid and chaotic urban development following World War II. There is lots of illegal or semi-legal construction and subdivision of lots so the city or district authority doesn’t have the chance to enforce a uniform numbering system. You sometimes wind up with house numbers like L-15/3 or 172/5-7 for this reason if there are any house numbers at all.

3 Anon March 9, 2016 at 9:01 am

In the city of Hyderabad in South India (India’s 5th largest ) they used to have numbers like 2-3-678/A/2/1 ; many of them are now updated.
Nebfocus’ point about landmarks is valid ; they are critical in India, despite all the numbering.
But on the other hand, although I have not lived in my village ( Pop:25,000) in the past 40+ years , if you send a letter with just my name and the 6 digit PIN code(zip code) , I am confident it will get delivered at my parents’ house . And this in a country wher the Postal service is much-maligned.

4 Tom G March 9, 2016 at 3:52 am

Why not use is where I work (in Slovakia). Take gmaps, divide the world into 3 x 3 m/squares (about 27 trillion?) and assign 3 distinct English words to each of those squares.

I actually want my company to use it, but I’m not pushing it so hard yet. It solves this problem best, so far.

5 Nebfocus March 9, 2016 at 5:37 am

What problem does that solve? You still need a lookup to see what the “apple tree stand” equates to.

As for India, the lack of actual address is incredible. 1.2 billion people asking each other for landmarks.

6 YS March 9, 2016 at 9:17 am

Solves the ENTIRE problem. Looking up “apple tree stand” is as easy as googling a zip code. Or one can use a smart phone to automatically locate any location – even if it is in the middle of the desert, no need for a building. Makes deliveries much, much easier, especially for mobile peddlers and merchants.

7 Nathan W March 9, 2016 at 10:25 am

It seems you are not familiar with old cities in the general sense of the word. The dot on the map is not very helpful because there are a thousand twists and turns on the way. It’s not like, say, 116th and 90th, beside the pretzel shop … it’s more like orienteering in a sense – even with GPS and a trail map, it is still possible to get turned around or even lost.

8 YS March 10, 2016 at 9:25 am

Well, actually I come from an old city – oldest in Europe by some accounts so I’m familiar with navigational problems.

Your point about orienteering is well taken, but my impression is that they were working on a map and not a GPS-type navigation system. The latter, by the way, would also be made exponentially easier to develop once location can be ascertained without the need for semi-manual re-coding of an arcane postal code system.

9 Gafiated March 9, 2016 at 5:53 am

So how do Indian drug dealers get their products to the right customer?

DelHIGHvery, of course.

10 rayward March 9, 2016 at 6:43 am

As firms like Amazon strive to make faster deliveries to customers, in some cases within hours of an order, the firms must build an increasing number of distribution centers located closer to the destinations. Soon enough, every community of any size will have a distribution center. In times past, we called the distribution centers “retail stores”, where customers took immediate delivery.

11 Axa March 9, 2016 at 7:05 am

The article is about India, they don’t have 24/7 Wal-Marts.

12 rayward March 9, 2016 at 7:20 am

Yes, and Moby-Dick is about a fish.

13 Cliff March 9, 2016 at 9:17 am

A whale actually

14 Adrian Ratnapala March 9, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Whales are fish!

It says so in Moby Dick.

15 Axa March 9, 2016 at 10:41 am

I’ve lived in mid-size cities in developing economies and small populations in rich countries where there is no such thing as “retail stores”. Yes, there’s food, clothing, home supplies and cars but not much beyond that. I think only people that live in very big cities can assume as natural that you can find anything you want in physical stores.

16 rayward March 9, 2016 at 11:25 am

The article (and the blog post) is about the logistics of delivering goods, in this case in the context of circumstances unique to India (or less developed countries). American companies have their own unique logistics when it comes to delivering goods, but solving the problem requires essentially the same problem solving skills.

17 Cliff March 9, 2016 at 9:18 am

Amazing insight, I’m sure we’ll be full circle in a few years

18 charlie March 9, 2016 at 10:15 am

have you heard of the new startup doing milk delivery!

19 Nathan W March 9, 2016 at 10:36 am

On a few occasions when travelling in India I made the mistake of booking ahead. Then, I had to spend ridiculous effort trying to find the place with an address where no one had heard of the street name, let alone being properly numbered. I revised strategies – just find out where’s a decent neighbourhood to stay in in the city you’re visiting and just find whatever hotel seems OK. As long as there’s 24 hour hot water and wifi I’m basically good to go (and I don’t check in until I’ve personally checked both). No more looking for landmarks, etc., just the right neighbourhood. Oh, and don’t forget to take a business card with you in case you get lost, or you might never find your hotel again.

I doubt that’s very helpful people who actually have to find a specific place on a tight timeline though …

20 Anon March 9, 2016 at 10:42 am

This may have been a while back . I think people do book ahead and find the Hotels easily enough now.

21 charlie March 9, 2016 at 12:38 pm

For a long time, the Indian government did not like maps. Presumably the threat of foreign invasion was high. The maps were out there — but hard for an average person to get. I know I spent a week trying to find some back in the 1980s.

22 Nathan W March 9, 2016 at 1:28 pm

Late 2013 (pre-electoral mayhem already abounding …). The maps were better than last time around in 2003, but there are still a million little alleys and small roads all over the place, and it’s really hard to tell what counts as a road or not on the map. In 2013, my first booking in Delhi, I’m 100% certain that i spent about an hour poking around within 100m or so of the hotel I booked, but I never actually found it and ended up staying somewhere else.

23 RM March 9, 2016 at 1:30 pm

India’s estranged cousin, Pakistan, just got Uber. God help me!

24 Bert March 10, 2016 at 3:26 am

I’ll take India seriously when they learn how to use toilets.

25 zbicyclist March 10, 2016 at 2:39 pm

“bearing more than 20 kilos on their bikes.”

Having seen what Indian cyclists are able to carry on their bikes, 20 kilos is no challenge at all.

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