Artificial intelligence to the rescue: assisting the shipping container crisis

The shipping industry continues to struggle with the ongoing shipping container shortage with many companies trying to adjust and adapt to the issue. Frankie Youd speaks to Dor Raviv, co-founder & CTO of Orca AI, to find out if AI can help correct the course.

With Christmas right around the corner, media outlets from across the globe have been highlighting the ongoing shipping container crisis that has shown little, if any, signs of stabilising. As millions of people around the world concerned for the festive season when it comes to gifts and certain food items, the industry has been working hard to adjust shipping methods and get products shipped where possible.

Alongside tactics such as repurposing containers and re-using older container models, maritime navigation company ORCA AI believes that the implementation of AI is the right way forward to tackle the crisis.

Frankie Youd: When looking at the ongoing shipping container crisis, do you think that AI is a viable solution?

Dor Raviv: The container crisis has been caused by a combination of lack of staff and lack of equipment – AI can help support both of these areas.

Part of the importance of introducing technology throughout the industry is to increase automation – not only on ships for improved visuals and traffic updates, but also for port operators to increase efficiency. 

Automating part of the logistics chain reduces reliance on people where there are shortages, making the entire process more efficient through processing multiple data points at any given time, empowering the chain with new, unique insights.

It also significantly opens up communication between fleets and ports, with sensors and real-time data being fed into a central point that is accessible to those on both land and sea, ensuring no ship is isolated. While it’s not an overnight solution, it will help lessen the strain on what is being labelled ‘Containergeddon’ and can be the catalyst for driving forward future innovation throughout the shipping world.

How would you suggest that AI can be used to help?

First, the industry needs to become familiar with the concept of data and its importance for decision making. Then, sensors and cameras installed onboard a vessel can generate data for the individual responsible on the ship, creating visibility on decision making, presenting, and prioritizing information.

These sensors can be used to provide live updates to the ports, allowing them to advise ships to slow their approach and delay their arrival, which will help reduce idling ships waiting to get into port. Over time, this data can also be analysed to predict future incidents and provide the essential insight to prevent them.

At Orca AI, we are working closely with shipping companies and oil majors to create a new safety system for autonomous cargo ships. This will create a new lookout support system for vessels by providing improved visibility in difficult conditions, preventing human error, and enabling crews to make truly informed decisions. 

In the future, as more stakeholders adopt these data-driven solutions, a data ecosystem will enable informed decisions throughout the entire supply chain.

Why do you think that AI has not been implemented sooner?

Shipping is a very traditional industry, lagging behind the likes of the automotive and aviation industries when it comes to technological innovation. The recent pandemic has helped accelerate the maritime industry’s acceptance of technology, such as AI, but we are still years behind other industries looking to achieve the same thing, with the technology still seen as a mystery to many.

However, the potential is vast and exciting. There are dozens of proofs of concepts being trialled across the globe that, in time, will bring us up to the standard of planes where nearly all commercial airlines now have a partially automated cockpit, where between take-off and landing, the pilots are not actively having to fly the plane.

At Orca AI, we are working towards projects that are able to achieve feats for the shipping industry, such as NYK and providing new data for the maritime insurers, and are excited at the future given the impact we’ve had in a relatively short time period.

What are the main benefits of using AI to help with the container shortage?

Captains, co-Captains, and navigational officers on board have extremely difficult and complex jobs. To avoid dangerous objects and collisions while sailing, navigators currently use binoculars and multiple sensors such as radar, to visually recognise and prioritise dangerous objects. This job is made even harder with inexperienced crew members. Looking at the statistics – nearly 4,000 maritime accidents occur annually, and the majority are caused by human error.

With AI, this process for identifying obstructions and prioritising risks is made far easier under most conditions. The more traffic and complex the scenario, the more the AI excels as opposed to humans, mainly due to the fact it can process multiple data points at blinding speeds.

Thermal imaging cameras and AI-enabled visual support systems provide instant feedback, helping them analyse situations and providing them with all the data they need to give them a full understanding of what they need to do at any given moment in time.

What do you think the future will hold for this shipping container crisis?

The pandemic has, unfortunately, put our industry under undue pressure, with the rising demand for products and shortage of skilled crew, and this problem is not going to go away overnight.

There are certainly a number of short-term solutions out there, such as opening 24/7 ports and adjusting delivery schedules so that empty containers are removed before new ones are brought in, but ultimately the solution can only come with further investment into new technologies, especially data-driven solutions.