How to Build a Shipping Routes Map

NOTE: An updated version of this article can be found in the Microsoft Maps Blog.

From a predictive traffic overlay to automated itineraries for hundreds of agents, creating a shipping routes map is easy with Bing Maps API–no matter how complex your requirements may be.

We will be going through 4 core Bing Maps API features that allow developers to deliver powerful route planning apps: batch geocoding, multi-itinerary optimization, truck routing, and high-res imagery.

Step 1: Batch geocoding

Logistics businesses have to handle hundreds if not thousands of addresses everyday. To optimize routes for delivery, these addresses should be in the form of coordinates. Unfortunately, customers will always enter their addresses as text-based descriptions. The Geocode Dataflow API seamlessly converts these text descriptions into accurate geographic coordinates with support for batch geocoding and reverse geocoding.

Geocoding is an integral part of creating a great shipping route app as it can improve the accuracy of the maps you will be generating. In turn, this will reduce ambiguity for agents and ensure that every order goes exactly where it is supposed to.

Using the Geocode Dataflow API for batch geocoding is an easy 4 step process.

First, format your data on a schema of your choice, then create a geocoding job with the API. This step involves uploading the location data that is going to be converted.

All that isleft to do is monitor the job status and download the geocode results once it is done. Check out our batch geocoding blog for a step-by-step intro to creating a job for your next delivery route planning app.

Step 2: Optimize routes for delivery

Creating an efficient shipping route map requires a ton of prior planning before an agent is sent out. Operators have to factor in dozens of variables when planning a manual route, including:

  • Fuel price/km
  • Traffic
  • Shift windows for each agent
  • Delivery priorities
  • Order quantities

The Multi-Itinerary Optimization (MIO) API saves the operators the hassle of computing all these variables and reduces the scope for human error with intelligent automation. The MIO API helps your agents stay ahead of schedule and out of traffic with support for up to 200 agents and 2000 waypoints. Predictive traffic data simplifies delivery route planning for your app by using historical data.

Try creating an optimized itinerary for your shipping route map with our interactive demo! You can optimize for up to 4 agents and 40 stops in the demo, and also alternate between travel time and price optimization.

We have generated a sample itinerary below as an example.

Optimized Itinerary

Stop Agent Start Time Duration End Time Location Name Priority Location Quantity Drop Off
0-1 Driver Joe Shift1 Start: 2020-01-09T08:00:00+00:00       1 47.68678, -122.38289    
0-2 Driver Joe 2020-01-09T12:00:00+00:00 0:02:00 2020-01-09T12:02:00+00:00 Pizza Place 1 47.67716, -122.36553 1000  
0-3 Driver Joe 2020-01-09T17:30:00+00:00 0:02:00 2020-01-09T17:32:00+00:00 Customer 1 1 47.67981, -122.38304 -1  
0-4 Driver Joe 2020-01-09T19:30:00+00:00 0:02:00 2020-01-09T19:32:00+00:00 Customer 5 1 47.69243, -122.39200 -3  
0-5 Driver Joe     Shift1 End: 2020-01-09T19:36:07+00:00   1 47.68678, -122.38289    
1-1 Driver Susan Shift1 Start: 2020-01-09T08:00:00+00:00       1 47.68412, -122.35208    
1-2 Driver Susan 2020-01-09T12:00:00+00:00 0:02:00 2020-01-09T12:02:00+00:00 Pizza Place 1 47.67716, -122.36553 1000  
1-3 Driver Susan 2020-01-09T18:00:00+00:00 0:02:00 2020-01-09T18:02:00+00:00 Customer 2 1 47.68466, -122.36484 -2  
1-4 Driver Susan 2020-01-09T18:09:56+00:00 0:02:00 2020-01-09T18:11:56+00:00 Customer 4 1 47.69622, -122.34218 -5  
1-5 Driver Susan 2020-01-09T18:17:43+00:00 0:02:00 2020-01-09T18:19:43+00:00 Customer 3 1 47.68674, -122.35471   Pizza Place
1-6 Driver Susan     Shift1 End: 2020-01-09T18:22:03+00:00   1 47.68412, -122.35208    

Our sample only optimizes for 2 agents, but it’s enough for a detailed look at how useful it can be for shipping route maps. Businesses can use the MIO API in their delivery route planning apps to save fuel and time by intelligently grouping agents to maximize operational efficiency. To get a better idea of what our itinerary would look like on a map, take a look at this example.

an optimized shipping route map for two agents

Both agents are grouped according to their starting points and delivery locations, this removes any possible overlapping routes and reveals the fastest way to each destination keeping travel time in mind. Learn more about the MIO API by consulting the datasheet.

Step 3: Use customized routing

Optimizing routes for deliveries requires a different set of skills from what we would typically use for navigating on foot or even in a car. Delivery trucks can vary drastically in terms of vehicle specifications, maximum weight, and the type of cargo that they can carry. In effect, this means that a road that’s too narrow for your trucks can quickly render your shipping route map ineffective.

The Truck Routing API gets around these limitations by taking your commercial vehicle’s specifications into account when creating routes. Support for a range of customizable parameters allows operators to improve their delivery route planning by previewing traffic conditions, road restrictions, and other environmental impacts such as strong crosswinds right from the app.

Independent software vendor Inogic used the Truck Routing API to build Maplytics, a geo-analytical app that uses location data to create optimized shipping route maps. The team wanted to create a one-stop solution for businesses working with large fleets and hundreds of different waypoints. Learn more about how you can use the API for your routing app by reading the full customer story.

a radius map for a shipping route

Step 4: Visualize your delivery routes

Being able to visualize the distance your agents can travel in a given amount of time is a necessity when optimizing routes for deliveries. Use the Isochrone API to generate a travel radius map for a deeper insight into what you can achieve with your fleet.

The Isochrone API’s applications go far beyond just delivery route planning. You can also use it to identify locations for a potential expansion by finding out how far your fleet can travel from each warehouse. Use the interactive demo to get a glimpse of how the API can revamp your shipping route maps.

Logistics providers aren’t just limited to using standard road maps for deliveries. Tap into Bing Maps API’s location data for advanced route planning. Our API supports high-resolution aerial and Bird’s Eye imagery data captured at a 45 degree angle. A resolution of 60-30cm/pixel allows operators to scope out distant and unfamiliar locations for delivery route planning right from the app.

Businesses operating outside of metropolitan areas often have to deal with challenging terrain. This can complicate deliveries for agents and cause delays as standard shipping route maps tend to omit topographical data. Developers can use the Elevation API here to create three-dimensional delivery routes that can capture the bigger picture. Use the interactive V8 SDK to learn more about creating an elevation layer.

Logistics done right

The first step to optimizing your routes for deliveries is creating a free Bing Maps API key. Generate a key and gain access to our fleet management APIs, designed from the ground up to enhance logistics with location-aware mapping.


How can agents find nearby rest stops and fuel during deliveries?

The Local Insights API gives agents real-time information about nearby points of interest during deliveries, including charging stations, rest stops, and restaurants.

What kind of key do I need?

Developers can choose either the Basic or Enterprise key. The basic key is free and supports up to 125k transactions per year. This key is ideal for proof-of-concept, educational, and general small scale applications.

The Enterprise key is perfect for businesses that build consumer-facing or high-powered logistics planning solutions and need a high-volume solution that can scale with their growing operations. Head over to our licensing page to find out which key is right for your next shipping route map.

Can beginners use these APIs?

If you’re new to delivery route planning apps, you can count on an extensive support system to guide you every step of the way, including detailed documentation and interactive code samples.