Overnight innovation solving port-related issues

The DockTech team, working late on a ‘predictive dredging’ ap The DockTech team, working late on a ‘predictive dredging’ ap

How can keeping 80 or so people up all night help solve practical, port-related issues like dredging prediction? The answer: hold a hackathon.

The autumn’s WPH17 event in Rotterdam showed the effectiveness of even one, intense 24-hour collaboration between software developers and port experts: challenges such as “how can we improve the city’s logistics” and “what can we do to make data more available” all threw up potential solutions.

The winner was a ‘silver bullet’ aimed at predicting maintenance dredging. While the port carries out periodic bathymetry measurements accurate to within a couple of centimetres, these are only updated monthly – and while the result is a good ‘snapshot’ of the present state of play, these snapshots are too far apart to effectively capture the deposit patterns of silt, which areas are building up faster, which slower.

However, survey craft are not the only boats furnished with measuring devices. “Service vessels like tugs and pilot boats cross each and every centimetre of the port,” said Dock Tech team leader Uri Yoselevich. “They all are mandated to carry echosounders, but nobody is collecting the data.”

Dock Tech’s idea is that these frequent depth measurements – accurate to within 10cm or so - are gathered together and put through a Google-developed ‘super-resolution’ algorithm. While not as accurate individually, together they yield a high-resolution surface and moreover, it’s one that will be updated on an ongoing basis. “We can deal with low-resolution samples as long as there are a lot of them...That’s the magic,” said Yoselevich. The idea is that this data will build up the picture of the bottom over time, “like bringing together the different frames in a movie”, he said, making it possible to visualise what will happen in the coming weeks or months.

As the winner of the 2017 WPH event, Dock Tech has an EUR1,500 prize to help it develop the concept, but most importantly, the team has established connections in the port that will ground the development and help make it viable. It may also prove a valuable resource for other ports: “It’s a worldwide problem,” pointed out Mr Yoselevich.

Another idea, also from an Israeli team, is to collect together the data from a number of different players around the port’s main connecting road, bringing them together to highlight how, for example, various impacts to the city’s logistics might be mitigated: waterway maintenance might mean temporarily taking cargo via road, so parallel highway maintenance should be avoided. And of course, if there were to be an incident of some kind – from a burst pipe to collision or power outage - then this solution would be able to decide on a flexible, practical solution that would ease the pressure, rather than create a bottleneck.

It’s worth noting both teams were supported by The Dock Innovation Hub. Firstly, while Israel is noted for advances in science and technology, “its maritime industry is still lagging behind”, admitted Nir Gartzman. But he doesn’t believe innovation is necessarily best served by being ring-fenced with patents and advocates a collaborative approach: “Open innovation, that’s key. And hackathons are a great example of that,” he said.

Further, The Hub provides an imaginative tech incubator which is supported by industry, in turn providing an innovation resource that industry can’t always foster by itself: “Most of the time, large organisations respond to current, urgent requirements with a short horizon. But the best ideas are aimed at the day after tomorrow,” concluded Mr Gartzman.

By Stevie Knight

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