Princeton is a center for operations research, or optimization, or advanced analytics, or whatever you want to call it. It was fostered by seminal research in Princeton from the 1930s to 1970s, including work on multi-agent, non-cooperative optimization — game theory — by John von Neumann (at the Institute for Advanced Study), Oscar Morganstern (founder of Mathematica), and John Nash (who won a Nobel Prize for the “win-win game theory” known as the Nash Equilibrium and who was celebrated in the Hollywood movie, “A Beautiful Mind”).
Among the current leading practitioners:
A professor in the operations research and financial engineering department of the engineering school at Princeton, Powell was an early pioneer in using operations research to help with the planning of operations for trucking, and he also pursues OR for railroads and business jets.
One of his first successes was to create the first interactive optimization model for designing service networks for less-than-full-load trucking companies, which were being deregulated in the early 1980s. Among his other projects are a strategic fleet simulator for Schneider National that saved more than $20 million for the trucking company, optimization of locomotive assignments for Norfolk Southern Railroad, tactical planning for a fleet of 500 jet airplanes, management of high value spare parts for an aircraft manufacturer, and strategic and operational planning at Yellow Freight System using SYSNET, Powell’s state of the art computer system.
He grew up in Baltimore, majored in civil engineering at Princeton (Class of 1973), and has a PhD from MIT. He spun off Princeton Transportation Consulting Group to Atlanta Manhattan Associates, and Transportation Dynamics to Princeton Consultants. He wrote a textbook, “Approximate Dynamic Programming: Solving the Curses of Dimensionality.” And he founded Castle Labs, a university/industry collaboration to develop, test, and implement operations research models that has earned more than $16 million in 20 years.
Powell has several programmers at Castle Labs, but when projects too big for the lab come in, he hands them off to Princeton Consultants. Their work is different from what the big consulting companies do, says Powell. “Steve has hyper-bright people, not just warm bodies, every single one hand-chosen and carefully vetted. When I refer a project to him, I have confidence that it will go well.”
Kornhauser, a professor in the department of operations research and financial engineering at Princeton’s engineering school, did seminal work in operations research for surface transportation some 30 years ago. This fall he will teach E-commerce and transportation systems planning and analysis.
Meanwhile ALK Associates, the firm he founded (others run it day-to-day) focuses on one part of operations research/optimization — finding the best route from A to B. It has a market leader product, PC*Miler, for North American motor carrier and railway routing.
“The innovation since has been on the input side (improvement of the data that is used to figure out the best route) and the output side (the delivery of the results to other processes and humans),” says Kornhauser. “Our CoPilot turn-by-turn navigation systems is one of the top three navigation software apps for smartphones and other devices in North America, Europe, Middle East, and Australia.”
“Our digital map database of North America provides complete coverage of more than 7 million miles of roads. It is used by both PC*Miler and CoPilot (in North America), is comparable and in some ways better than the other two leading digital map databases of North America (NavTeQ and TeleAtlas). Our current focus is on real-time attributes, such as current speed and weather.”
The latest releases of PC*Miler and CoPilot deliver real-time dynamic MinETA routing. ALK Associates, located on Herrontown Road, has 130 employees, along with 10 in Florida and 60 in London, Paris, and Munich.
Carl Van Dyke
Pure optimization rarely works in total independence from humans, says Van Dyke, one of the Princeton-based specialists in the niche market of transportation modeling. “You can’t take all the possible factors into account when you come up with the mathematically optimized solutions. You always need a hybrid of human smarts and software tools that enable people to manage the system.”
Van Dyke has an engineering degree from Penn (Class of 1979) and a masters from MIT. He joined Alain Kornhauser at ALK in 1985 to do asset velocity and network optimization for railroads. In 1992 he founded his own firm, MultiModal Applied Systems, focusing on software tools and consulting services to optimize networks and transportation — primarily focused on railroads, but also including trucks, boats, and containers.
He sold his business in 2006 to Oliver Wyman, a subsidiary of Marsh McClennan, the global management consulting firm. The 20-person office, which moved earlier this year from the Carnegie Center to University Square, focuses on the vertical market of surface transportation.