Microsoft and Abu Dhabi Terminals build industry confidence in Artificial Intelligence


The partnership between Abu Dhabi Terminals (ADT) and Microsoft to deploy Artificial Intelligence (AI) services at Khalifa Port is the latest step in ports and maritime harnessing the benefits of AI.

Microsoft is already a long-term partner of ADT. This latest step in the collaboration will see Microsoft Azure’s AI services delivered in full by the end of Q1 2022.

The technology, rolled out in partnership with Microsoft Consulting Services, will fuel the introduction of an AI-based Container Smart Tracking solution, enabling full traceability of all handled containers.

The partnership also has the potential to launch an autonomous vehicle system.

AI services – whether through smarter container management, replacing linear algorithms with Machine Learning, or triggering safety alarms when working in the terminal yard – are increasingly on the agenda for port operators.

Within the port industry, investment in AI is still an obstacle to overcome.

However, ADT’s Chief Automation Officer (CAO), Arturo Garcia, believes use cases like those covered in the partnership with Microsoft can push forward a sector lagging in the use of AI.

Garcia said that the ports industry can at times struggle to see the vision of AI capabilities and thus be hesitant to make a significant investment when the status quo is operating smoothly.

“[Port operators] ask why do we need to implement new technologies-Operations are running, as usual, productivity is stable – so why do we have to do it?” he told PTI.

“Vital pillars of organizational growth, sustainability and competence are how the leadership set the objectives towards R&D and innovation. The problem comes when the lack of innovation and technology vision impacts the future competitiveness of the industry. As our industry improves efficiency, worldwide trade will benefit from lower operating costs.”

Investment in emerging technologies corresponds with the Abu Dhabi Government’s 2030 Vision, Garcia said. Shareholders, ADT, and the government are aligned on the transformative impact of AI.

Predictive Analytics powered training at Abu Dhabi Terminals

AI software can systematise and translate huge amounts of data into actionable insights.

One area where ADT is exploring the utilisation of Predictive Analytics is with training staff members on cargo-handling equipment in the complex.

“I wouldn’t say that the data we have [on equipment] is less important, but it is definitely less utilised,” Garcia explained.

“We have crane operators that operate the quay cranes manually. Some operators are better performing in terms of Quay Crane Productivity than others and it can be challenging at times to understand the reasons behind this,” Garcia noted.

Through Predictive Analytics (potentially combining it with Machine Learning) translating the performance data into predictive patterns, ADT could have actionable insights on how to build efficiency into crane performance and into the entire Container Terminal Operations.

5G impact

Garcia told PTI that 5G has been on ADT’s radar for some time, with ADT currently exploring possibilities to implement a network in its terminal.

Currently, the terminal connects its infrastructure through kilometers of fiber cables, transferring datasets around the terminal yard.

In the future, a 5G network – with its high bandwidth, and low latency – will provide ADT with real-time information on data flows which will enhance the port’s overall handling capacity.

Garcia states, “5G will minimise our reliance on physical infrastructure for day-to-day operations and potentially decrease the investment required when building new terminals or retrofitting existing facilities.”

Not only this, but ensuring the rapid transfer of information to the Microsoft AI platform ensures that port operatives can receive instant and dynamic information sets on a resilient network.

However, obstacles still remain with 5G investment. Garcia said while the technical maturity of 5G is not the issue, regulatory challenges and investment routes – such as whether to invest in a full private network, utilise commercial slicing, or wait until 5G investment falls – still limit industry take-up of the technology.

“We know that the trend in the industry is to adopt the modern technology for the sake of ticking a few boxes, so we make sure that we stay away from that perspective.

“Whenever we invest, we evaluate the proper return and value creation. We should never invest just for the sake of having the latest technology without an obvious goal and benefits of its use”, explained Garcia.

“We believe that with ADT’s vision of partnering with World Class technology leaders will help our industry to stop being a follower.

“I firmly believe that the global ports industry must take a more aggressive stance with technology investment and become a trailblazer, creator, and leader.”

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