The seminar was called "How Does UPS Get Your Package to Its Destination on Time?" The three-day curriculum was taught by Keith Devlin of Stanford University and categorized as a course in Creative Math. A snippet from the class summary read as follows: "Many aspects of our lives are controlled by algorithms that make things faster, better, cheaper, more accurate, more efficient, more suited to our needs and desires..."
As a freshman, Daniel is enjoying his first Intersession at Nueva, and his personal interests in engineering, programming, and airplanes are reflected in his seminar choices, which ranged from "Neuromarketing" to "The Intersection of Magic and Engineering." Daniel also signed up for two additional creative math classes, including this UPS tracking puzzle.
"We're trying to figure out how the UPS delivers packages using a single tracking code," Daniel explained. The class started by plotting the times and cities where the package was received. Daniel's package started on the West Coast, in Petaluma. From there, it went to Newark, then to Oakland, then drove to San Jose, flew to Louisville, and then flew back to Newark, its final destination.
Daniel threw his hands up when describing the process, "How do they choose where to send packages? And why is it more cost-efficient to send it back and forth across the country?" And that was where the creative math part came into play.
During day two of the seminar, Devlin introduced Karmarkar's Method, which is an algorithm used to decipher linear programming problems. Daniel explained that he was learning mathematical theory and finding alternate approaches to an equation, with the ultimate goal of leveraging formulas that he and his classmates have created. Daniel said, "I end up learning all of the different ways to get to the same solution." He attributes this mathematical creativity to the moments when he and his classmates compare equations and check each other's work. Daniel explains that multiple students will frequently arrive at the same solution through different means of problem-solving.
UPS developed a system called ORION — On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation — to optimize driver routing and determine the most effective way to deliver packages. In his class, Daniel compiled the exact same data that ORION uses to optimize delivery driver routes, thereby illustrating one of the many ways that Nueva educators bring real-world issues to students' desks.
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