PIXEL: Using the power of data to make maritime industry greener

December 3, 2021
Words by Joao Pita Costa and Jasna Simončič

With 90% of goods transported by sea, the global environmental impact of ports is substantial. And it’s not just the environmental impact that’s getting out of control. The data collected by the port authority and port terminals is massive, as is the communication between ships entering and leaving the port and the control center. This unimaginable amount of data could be used to optimize port ecosystems and, in turn, minimize their ecological impact. But these environmental and logistical challenges are difficult to cope with, especially in small or medium-sized ports due to their limited staff capacity, infrastructures and allocated budgets.

The answer to these problems? PIXEL, the first smart, flexible and scalable solution for reducing environmental impacts while enabling the optimization of operations in port ecosystems through Internet of Things (IoT).

 

Leveraging IoT for green growth of ports

The PIXEL project, in which XLAB played a key role, addresses both – data management and environmental efficiency monitoring at the same time. For 41 months, the consortium of European ports and logistics hubs, companies and research institutions developed a data-driven solution to provide near-real-time assessment of environmental efficiency of ports and terminals, enabling efficient use of resources, sustainable development and green growth of ports and surrounding cities and regions.

PIXEL enables ports, multimodal transport operators and cities to work together towards optimal resource use, sustainable economic growth and reduced environmental impact. It provides a single platform that contains all the data needed and uses the IoT to reduce emissions and impacts. What makes PIXEL so valuable is that it was born from small ports and is designed to scale to all sizes, where multiple agents can work together to better manage port activities. And since it is based on open source software, it can be extended and replicated as needed. It can also be updated and scaled through public open source projects supported by the members of PIXEL.

 

PIXEL in action

Using PIXEL, the Port of Bordeaux forecasts energy needs taking into account the operation of ships and proposes to adapt the use of solar panels accordingly. The Port of Monfalcone addresses the challenges of traffic congestion and truck parking by measuring, predicting and responding to them in advance using PIXEL. The Port of Thessaloniki uses PIXEL to strengthen the port-city interface by focusing on vehicle flow to reduce port emissions and carbon footprint. At the Port of Piraeus, PIXEL tracks passenger traffic growth, monitors ships and cruises, and proposes measures to increase the climate resilience of port activities by making them more environmentally sustainable. Thanks to PIXEL’s ability to integrate new services and functional requirements, the Port Authority of Trieste has used it to create a new service for the organization of social distancing actions in the terminal in the fight against COVID-19.

     

XLAB’s role

We led the development of a powerful data infrastructure called PIXEL Information Hub, processed the Automatic Identification System (AIS) data with our own powerful algorithms to predict estimated time of arrival and departure, and developed machine learning algorithms to predict traffic congestion in the port city and at the port gate helping vessel maneuvering and flow of goods.

XLAB also led innovation management, exploitation and business plan activities. Our Joao Pita Costa, the innovation manager of PIXEL Ports, explains more about the project, its innovations, and its future.

What are the main innovations with which PIXEL is aiming to change the maritime industry as we know it?

To leverage IoT infrastructure for monitoring the environmental impact in a way that it is useful for stakeholders and maritime agencies, it is important to have robust, reliable, but also flexible and scalable tools to do it. The main innovation of PIXEL – the Port Environmental Index – is solving this challenge as a single window to the environmental efficiency of ports, terminals and vessels.

Built on top of the state-of-the-art interoperability technologies, PIXEL centralizes data from different information silos where internal and external stakeholders store their operational information. With it, PIXEL eases the digital transformation in the industry through its light approach to the digital twin of a port – the Port Activity Scenario – that allows planning of energy demand and consumption balance, or different aspects of environmental pollution through simulation in the context of what-if scenarios. The innovation brought by this key result is the adaptability in terms of data availability: it can work with a minimum set of data providing results of a corresponding level of confidence.

PIXEL is based on a modular architecture that allows for the integration of new computational models, already including an energy balance model, helping improve the energy efficiency, and the environmental pollution model, aiming to reduce the environmental footprint. To address the pandemic difficulties in the industry, we have prepared and included a COVID-19 pilot to assess the restriction compliance and plan for workflow efficiency.

 
Port Environmental Index – showing the environmental impact in real time.
 

What role did XLAB had in the project?

XLAB was a key partner in the consortium. We have coordinated the challenging task of establishing a meaningful implementation of AI in the maritime context, and build PIXEL’s Big Data engine – the Information Hub – together with the French telecom Orange, maritime solution provider Prodevelop, and Technical University of Valencia. Building on this powerful data infrastructure, XLAB used automatic identification system (AIS) data, obtained by own initiative with the help of an AIS antenna that we set up back in the summer of 2019. This data was cleaned, preprocessed and compressed with our own powerful algorithms to forecast Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) and Departure (ETD), to which we developed a service for: PARES. Our work greatly improves the preparedness of planning departments, particularly in the maneuvering operations at the port.

And to complement this forecasting at sea, we forecast traffic congestion throughout the city and at the port gate to provide a complete picture on the use of AI to monitor and plan the transport of goods in the vicinity of the port, and contribute to the improvement of port-city relationships, as highly noted by our advisors, the Port-city Association (AIVP).

What are the plans after the official end of the project?

The PIXEL project lives on as the PIXEL Ports Association, a new European NGO, helping small and medium ports in their ecological transition through the appropriate digital transformation, extending the mission of the project and hopefully leading to have PIXEL’s Port Environmental Index as an industry standard.

But it is not just a lobbing entity discussing challenging problems, it is also offering a cloud and on-prem technological solution, making the Port Environmental Index easily available and enabling specific workflows related to energy efficiency or environmental pollution management. It’s important for maritime stakeholders to take the step towards the ecological transition, optimizing their infrastructure for efficient digital transformation with a well-established port-city relationship.



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