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Smart ports worldwide are transforming their operations by harnessing the power of digital technology, embracing cloud connectivity, and pioneering the use of AI and 5G.

Let's discover some of the leading innovators.

Port of Rotterdam's digital dolphins

The Port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe and handles over 461 million tons of cargo and more than 140,000 ships annually.

It has partnered with IBM and Cisco to drive its ambition of becoming the "world's smartest port," with a key goal of hosting autonomous ships by 2025.

The partnership has seen developing a centralized IoT dashboard application that collects and processes real-time data on water and weather conditions to enable safer and more efficient traffic management.

This data is analyzed by IBM's cloud-based IoT technologies and turned into information port operators can use to determine optimal times for ships to dock and load/unload.

The result?

This will enable a new wave of safer and more efficient traffic management at the port.

It is estimated that these data-driven efficiencies will save shipping companies and the port up to one hour in berthing time, the equivalent of US$80,000. 

There's more.

The smart port also uses "digital dolphins" – smart quay walls and sensor-equipped buoys that generate data around the conditions and time required when ships are berthing.

Machine learning is then used to analyze data patterns and create better insights into the port's overall activity. 

In addition to navigation data, the smart port has created a manufacturing lab using 3D printing to create spare parts.

The secret?

A robotic welding arm can build ship components such as propellers in a fraction of the time it takes using traditional methods, reducing the manufacturing process from eight weeks to 4 days.

Singapore's digital port

The Port of Singapore uses a PORTNET network portal, allowing companies and government agencies to connect shipping lines, haulers, and freight forwarders, helping them synchronize their operations.

The Computer Integrated Terminal Operations System is the port's IT backbone and coordinates all operations and equipment in real-time.

Elsewhere in Singapore, a fully-automated and paperless Flow-Through Gate system processes up to 700 trucks per hour.

Here's the new process.

  • Upon arrival, drivers verify their identity through a fingerprint biometric reader or PIN.
  • The system checks the driver's identity, the truck's characteristics, and the container number against a computerized database.
  • Once cleared, the driver receives a text message telling them exactly where the container should go. 

Port of Antwerp and VR

Belgium's Port of Antwerp uses virtual reality (VR) to understand water level patterns in its docks and help develop an eco-friendly hydro-turbine.

Differences in water levels will drive the hydro-turbine, which will generate sustainable energy to help power port operations.

The port is also developing a VR 3D model to help quickly identify when maintenance is required. There are further "proof of concept" plans to build a virtual terminal with track & trace tag fitted containers to see if VR can be used for full operational automation.

Port of Hamburg and 5G

In collaboration with Deutsche Telekom and Nokia, the Port of Hamburg is pioneering 5G technology, aiming to become a hub for next-generation mobile communications. 

Applications for the technology include sensors on ships to transmit movement and environmental data and traffic lights linked to the network, which control the movement of vessels through the port.

Long Beach embraces AI.

The Port of Long Beach, California, has embraced artificial intelligence (AI) to improve efficiencies in automated machines and help predict equipment maintenance requirements.

AI is also used for cargo handling via automated cranes, for intermodal traffic (navigating automated trucks through traffic to the ports), and to decide which containers are handled first.

Other ports are harnessing the power of AI too. 

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has integrated AI technology into its five-year digital plan.

Meanwhile, in the northeast of England, the  Situational Awareness Information National Technology Service project aims to use drones, AI, and crewless sea vessels to boost trade and the economy. 

Driverless boats soon in smart ports and canals

Driverless boats look set to arrive on the world's waterways sooner than autonomous cars take to our roads.

Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory are designing a fleet of autonomous boats that will allow waterway-rich cities such as Amsterdam, Bangkok, and Venice to clear road traffic congestion by moving goods and people on canals.

The vessels could also be programmed to self-assemble into structures such as floating bridges and even concert stages.