Dynamic autopilot navigation

10th September 2008 – 7.28 am

The ship's autopilot in EVE Online is like HAL 9000, as it will happily follow instructions to get the ship to its destination whilst killing the crew in the process. Manually warping to a stargate will get your ship close enough to be able to activate the gate generally as soon as your ship drops out of warp, handy if there is a gate camp, but the autopilot prefers a more insouciant approach. It warps to fifteen kilometres out from the gate to enjoy the spectacular space vista as it glides in to activation range, which makes your ship vulnerable to attack for a significant amount of time.

That's not to say the autopilot is useless. Setting the autopilot with a destination brings up information on the HUD, detailing your current and destination systems, how many hops you need to make, and listing as many intermediate systems and their security ratings as it can fit. The next stargate waypoint is also coloured distinctly in the overview, allowing quick selection and warp drive activation after entering a new system. Even if the autopilot isn't used to pilot the ship directly, its navigation system is certainly worth switching on for these features. Flying to your destination is then a simple recursive matter of selecting the right jump gate, warping to within zero metres of it, and jumping.

It's interesting to realise how quickly I've got used to quite a number of systems and their interconnecting jump gates, dispensing the local need for the autopilot's navigation systems. It is interesting because of the abstract nature of the connections, as they are effectively a linked list of names, but with multiple links and lists. I am not remembering that I have to head to Perimeter and then take a left past the ringed planet to Urlen, and if I hit the nebula I've gone too far, I am only remembering the names, the order I encounter them, and the several further names that each one links to. I thought I'd be referring to the EVE Online Strategic Maps book more than I am.

Not that I don't refer to the strategic atlas, as it is an excellent reference that allows you to scan across a large number of systems easily, making the maps a useful resource I am happy to have to hand. But the strategic atlas is mostly used when locating systems new to me, or finding how far away an agent is sending me on a mission. I get used to the close proximity systems and their linking jump gates quite quickly when running missions, and this creates further links in my memory's map. I also use the autopilot's navigation systems when making multiple-hop journeys, for although I could work out the route it's easier and quicker not to have to keep referring to a map.

When it came to checking the availability of higher-quality agents recently I found a suitable person to work with, requiring another change of outpost to relocate my Drake and Cormorant and retrieving all my loot and salvage to be sold or reprocessed back at HQ. Heading to a new system meant not knowing the navigation routes around adjacent systems. I could get about half-way from HQ to my destination using my memory but then I'd be following the map. Instead of trying to pilot the ship with a book on my lap, particularly when I'm in a pod full of goo, I punch my destination in to the autopilot and let it calculate an optimal route.

One good feature of the autopilot is that it can be programmed to avoid low-sec systems, routing around the direct path in favour of better security. A feature I haven't found is programming the autopilot to avoid Jita, and the first hop on my current journey is through the centre of lag and scams in the galaxy. Whilst being perhaps a more direct route I would not count on it being the quickest, with the possibility of that one hop through Jita lasting an hour or more, but you don't fly around Caldari space for any significant amount of time without working out how to bypass that quagmire.

I point my ship towards the Niyabainen jump gate and, after jumping to that system, then warp to the Tunttaras jump gate. I know that I am adding an extra hop to my journey but not having to enter Jita is easily worth a hop or two. Having entered Niyabainen I notice something interesting: the autopilot's navigation system has dynamically updated itself. Rather than insist that I should still be heading to Jita to progress towards my destination it has reorientated itself and worked out a new optimal route, one that follows along my current path. The jump gate of Tunttaras is neatly highlighted for me.

The rest of my journey is a relaxing flight, served with gin and tonics, as I follow the route marked out by the autopilot, noting the intermediate systems in my own memory for reference. It wasn't too long ago that anitquated route-finders would stubbornly persist in getting me back to Jita so that they could begin their planned journey, so this dynamically updating system is nifty! It is amazing what they can do with ship's computers these days, and it ensures the autopilot is a handy system to use even after manual overrides.

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