Global Trade: Artificial Intelligence’s New Frontier
As the world’s transportation infrastructure embraces AI, the potential for efficiency throughout the world is tremendous and shipping is primed for a complete technological overhaul.
The world of global shipping is changing at a breakneck pace, and it isn’t just because of Amazon. The changes user-side, however significant, are dwarfed by the potential found on the shipping side. 90% of the world’s goods are being transported by sea, equaling over 10.7 billion tons of shipping in 2017. The unit used to measure shipping across a variety of industries is tonnes-kilometers (Tonnage over distance), with shipping contributing 58 Trillion tonnes-kilometers.
Every marginal increase in efficiency in this industry can be equal to billions upon billions in value created for operators. Shipping is the world’s lifeblood, and many of us don’t even recognize it.
Online marketplaces aren’t leading the only revolution in shipping. An Automation Revolution is starting with shipping, centered in Rotterdam. Rotterdam is Europe’s largest port, handling around 470 million tonnes of freight per year, and the port itself comprises over 6 percent of the Dutch economy. It is the home of the world’s first automated container terminal, first opened as early as 1993.
Today, the shipping terminal is one of the world’s advanced. Rotterdam World Gateway (RWG)’s terminal in the port handles over 2,350,000 carbo containers per year, with no more than 10-15 workers a day. The real workers are the Electrical Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and the automated cranes. Ships are automatically loaded and unloaded by the automated cranes, containers are loaded onto automated vehicles that transport and store the containers, fully autonomously.
The vehicles are even automated to swap their batteries. This automation allows for a massive jump in efficiency, at an increase not seen since the implementation of the “container standard”, implemented in 1965 which led to a 17x increase in efficiency of loading and unloading.
The potential of this technology is staggering. Being able to operate a container terminal dealing with over 2,000,000 containers a year with only a daily staff of 15 people is a profound measure in effectiveness. It allows ports to operate at 100% efficiency - 24/7.
Not just that, but the integration of technology into every level of the process allows for issues to be found and addressed much quicker than before. This allows for the effective and efficient use of expensive capital assets such as cranes, trucks and ship berths.
Ports are not the only part of shipping infrastructure that is utilizing AI for leaps in efficiency. A new and promising aspect of shipping that is getting more focus is the ships themselves. When we think of self-driving vehicles our minds jump to cars and trucks, but for many in the shipping industry, the potential of self-driving ships is showing itself.
A vast number of benefits arise from the development of this technology. A decrease in maritime accidents is a major factor, as over 75% of maritime accidents are due to human error. A reduction in journey time is another consideration, as well as a reduction in congestion.
Currently, it is a lengthy process: ships are guided into busy harbors to berths, and if a ship is delayed that could mean that the terminal needs to suddenly ensure it has all the workers to unload the ship in time.
Automation removes both sides of this issue. AI allows for removal of congestion and efficient management of a port's outgoing and incoming traffic, as well as allowing the terminals to run at full efficiency 24/7. The value of such innovations can hardly be quantified, as we are staring in the face of a new AI revolution.
Written by Ramsay Bader
Edited by Alexander Fleiss, Jason Kauppila, Jack Argiro, Xujia Ma, Calvin Ma & Michael Ding