Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

In The Race To The Top, Zigzagging Is More Efficient Than A Straight Line

Date:
February 26, 2008
Source:
University of Washington
Summary:
A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it isn't necessarily the fastest or easiest path to follow. That's particularly true when terrain is not level, and now American and British researchers have developed a mathematical model showing that a zigzag course provides the most efficient way for humans to go up or down steep slopes. Trails evolve, among other reasons, because of physical differences in people and the differences in the biomechanics and energy cost of ascending and descending a slope.

Trails used by humans exhibit zigzags, or switchbacks, when they traverse steep hillsides, such as this on in Mallorca, Spain.
Credit: Martin Llobera

A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it isn't necessarily the fastest or easiest path to follow. That's particularly true when terrain is not level, and now American and British researchers have developed a mathematical model showing that a zigzag course provides the most efficient way for humans to go up or down steep slopes.

"I think zigzagging is something people do intuitively," said Marcos Llobera, a University of Washington assistant professor of anthropology who is a landscape archaeologist. "People recognize that zigzagging, or switchbacks, help but they don't realize why they came about."

Llobera, who is interested in reconstructing patterns of movement within past landscapes, said the model and a study that describes it stem from earlier research that looked at the emergence of trail systems. That research focused on flat terrain.

"You would expect a similar process on any landscape, but when you have changes in elevation it makes things more complicated," he said. "There is a point, or critical slope, where it becomes metabolically too costly to go straight ahead, so people move at an angle, cutting into the slope. Eventually they need to go back toward the direction they were originally headed and this creates zigzags. The steeper the slope, the more important it is that you tackle it at the right angle."

Trails evolve, among other reasons, because of physical differences in people and the differences in the biomechanics and energy cost of ascending and descending a slope.

"You get a different pattern if people are going up or down and this may lead to the emergence of shortcuts. Walking downhill generally takes less energy except for braking. We would expect to see different paths going up and down, but what we end up with is a compromise and shortcuts aren't as apparent."

Llobera said many other physical factors can influence the creation and development of a trail or path, and that the new model is a simplified one and a place to start. Eventually he hopes to build a simulation engine that would allow archaeologists to plug in a terrain and explore different patterns of movement through it. He is particularly interested in using it with landscapes that have resulted from the accumulations of various societies and cultures.

The study appears the Journal of Theoretical Biology and was funded by a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship awarded to Llobera. Co-author of the paper is T.J. Sluckin, a mathematician at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Washington. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Washington. "In The Race To The Top, Zigzagging Is More Efficient Than A Straight Line." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 February 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080220130507.htm>.
University of Washington. (2008, February 26). In The Race To The Top, Zigzagging Is More Efficient Than A Straight Line. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080220130507.htm
University of Washington. "In The Race To The Top, Zigzagging Is More Efficient Than A Straight Line." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080220130507.htm (accessed July 23, 2014).

Share This




More Computers & Math News

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

AP (July 23, 2014) 'Ray' the robotic parking valet at Dusseldorf Airport in Germany lets travelers to avoid the hassle of finding a parking spot before heading to the check-in desk. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Six Indicted in StubHub Hacking Scheme

Six Indicted in StubHub Hacking Scheme

AP (July 23, 2014) Six people were indicted Wednesday in an international ring that took over more than 1,000 StubHub users' accounts and fraudulently bought tickets that were then resold. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Reviews Are In For The Amazon Fire Phone

The Reviews Are In For The Amazon Fire Phone

Newsy (July 23, 2014) Amazon's first smartphone, the Fire Phone, is set to ship this week, and so far the reviews have been pretty mixed. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bigger Apple Phone, Bigger Orders

Bigger Apple Phone, Bigger Orders

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 22, 2014) Apple is asking suppliers to make 70 to 80 million units of its new larger screen iPhone, a lot more initially than its current model. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins