Port of Rotterdam

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 the development of 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 that port operators can use to determine optimal times for ships to dock and load/unload. 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. 

The 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 on the port's overall activity. 

In addition to navigation data, the port has created a manufacturing lab using 3D printing to create spare parts. 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 as long as eight weeks to 200 hours.

Port of Singapore

The Port of Singapore uses a PORTNET network portal, which allows companies and government agencies to connect shipping lines, hauliers and freight forwarders, helping them to synchronize their operations. The Computer Integrated Terminal Operations System is the IT backbone of the port and coordinates all operations and equipment in real-time.

Elsewhere at Singapore, a fully-automated and paperless Flow-Through Gate system processes up to 700 trucks per hour. Upon arrival, drivers verify their identity through a fingerprint biometric reader or PIN. The system checks the identity of the driver, 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

Belgium's Port of Antwerp is using virtual reality (VR) to understand water level patterns in its docks and help in the development of an eco-friendly hydro-turbine. Differences in water levels will drive the hydro-turbine, which in turn 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, and 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

In collaboration with Deutsche Telekom and Nokia, the Port of Hamburg is pioneering the use of 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, as well as traffic lights linked to the network, which control the movement of vessels through the port.

Port of Long Beach

The Port of Long Beach, California, has embraced the use of 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. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has integrated AI technology into its five-year digital plan. Meanwhile, in the north east of England, the  Situational Awareness Information National Technology Service project aims to use drones, AI and unmanned sea vessels in a project aimed at boosting trade and the economy. 

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.