Q&A: Awakening smart port tech at the Port of Rotterdam

Ilaria Grasso Macola 16 March 2021 (Last Updated February 22nd, 2021 12:13)

To help the Port of Rotterdam become ‘the smartest in the world’, Finnish start-up Awake.AI has been working on different projects, including creating a digital twin for the port. We speak to Awake.AI CEO Karno Tenovuo to understand what the ports of the future will look like.

Q&A: Awakening smart port tech at the Port of Rotterdam
To help the Port of Rotterdam become ‘the smartest in the world’, Finnish start-up Awake.AI has been working on different projects, including creating a digital twin for the port. Credit: Awake.AI.

Despite its best efforts, maritime logistics is still behind with its digitalisation process, with many companies relying on paper and Excel to carry out operations. According to Karno Tenovuo, CEO and co-founder at Finnish start-up Awake.AI, maritime logistics today is not sustainable and many manual processes need to be optimised and automated.

Founded two years ago, Awake.AI was recently chosen by Port of Rotterdam as its smart port development partner. To help Rotterdam become ‘the world’s smartest port’, Awake.AI has created a smart ship port call management system to test all transformational processes without threatening the port’s massive operations, which include 8.8 million containers and 15 million twenty-foot equivalent unit in total.

To optimise port calls as well as information gaps and environmental inadequacies, the company has also been working on a platform that relies on ‘digital handshakes’ between ports and ships. We spoke to Tenovuo to find out more about the project and how digitalisation can boost efficiency at ports.

Ilaria Grasso Macola (IGM): How did the partnership with the Port of Rotterdam come about?

Karno Tenovuo (KT): We met at an industry event. Port of Rotterdam authorities were looking for a company that could help them enable smart ships to make port calls in the future as well for someone to develop future data standards, application programming interfaces (API) and related cloud services.

As a big part of our team comes from Rolls Royce, [and has experience in] developing autonomous and remotely controlled ships, we had the software development background for these interfaces and could create a smart ship port call management solution to connect the different domains.

IGM: What was the rationale behind the project?

KT: As the Port of Rotterdam wants to become the smartest port in the world, [it needs] to enable smart ships – all the way to autonomous ships – to arrive at the port in the future. [In order to so], the port [asked Awake.AI] to design, build and develop systems and interfaces to accommodate these needs.

That was our rationale for joining the project. We still are the only company in the world with such a solution.

IGM: Let’s talk about the project. Can you tell us how it will work?

KT: The simulation starts from the pilot station, with the ship approaching the port. During the simulation, we can set different environmental parameters (including wind, tides) and vessel parameters and can monitor all the API calls.

As the simulation progresses, we can put our vessel among other ships travelling next to it or it can be sailing alone. Once the simulation is completed, the data goes into supporting the system validation, verification and standardisation work.

We have built this solution on top of our AWAKE platform, so we can have different map views and different visualisations tailored to the specific needs.

IGM: What are the pros of testing different scenarios in a digital environment?

KT: In a virtual environment, we can verify and validate solutions before the real tests begin, maturing solutions much faster.

We also don’t have the safety risks or hazards we would in real-life tests and that’s why this digital environment is better and faster for development and validation work.

IGM: Will the digital twin be able to predict potential safety risks in real-life scenarios?

KT: Our solutions link the static and dynamic objects such as the sea markers, routes and other vessels. The algorithms are constantly predicting and calculating best routes and safety hazards.

By using these simulations and modelling, we can actually create smart and efficient port calls and enable smart ships to interact with other static and dynamic objects.

IGM: What are the benefits of a port and ship platform that has a ‘digital handshake’, compared to a more traditional system?

KT: Firstly, [in the shipping industry] there needs to be a new type of data sharing which is not happening today, as many times ships entering the ports share information using emails and phone calls, and this is still very manual.

How smart ships will share their data and how you take them into account to optimise costs and emissions is the platform’s approach and why we have been developing this capability.

Secondly, once you have shared the data, how do you make sure that the services expected – such as bunkering services, waste or water services – are provided at the right time and place?

Thirdly, by using these real-time situational awareness solutions you can continuously be sure, for example, that you are safe to move to the next voyage point or that the information you shared is safe.

Lastly, if there is a risk of collision or the previous port call has been delayed or the berth place is occupied, you would get all these warnings well in advance. That’s where [our] capabilities can really help.

IGM: How will this kind of solutions help reduce the environmental impact these ports have?

KT: [Helping reduce the environmental impact of maritime logistics] is a key part because if you think about the IMO targets, it’s not obvious how companies are planning to reach those. As the first targets are to be complied with by 2030, if you start a year or two before you’re too late.

We calculated that this type of optimisation platform can save 775 million tonnes of CO2 during this decade, which is around 10% of all shipping emissions.

By our own approximation, we can achieve most of the IMO targets using AWAKE platform type optimisation solutions, but they have to take into account both the network effect and learning effect.

[With regards to the network effect], the more customers and supply chains there are using this, the more savings it will generate whilst [for the network effect], the more customers doing transactions and executing these voyage using our platform, the more the algorithm and its predictions get better, reducing more waste.