Free for the Asking

Port Technology gave us still another featured article on August 31st. Written by Professor Rochdi Merzouki, the InTraDE Project Manager, Lille, France, this concise technical offering bore the title:
“Welcoming a New Transportation Concept”

“The use of intelligent autonomous vehicles (IAV) is a relatively new concept for the container transport industry. The concept is currently being examined on a large scale within the framework of the European project InTraDE (Intelligent Transportation in Dynamic Environment), co-funded by the Interreg IV-B North West Europe (NWE) programme. The project, which began back in 2009 with a completion date slated for 2015, aims to contribute to the socio-economic development of ports located in NWE.

“Maritime trade, particularly container transport, is continuously growing. Unfortunately not all small and medium size ports from NWE have sufficient operational tools to follow the rhythm of this trade increase. With static limitations, the internal traffic can become increasingly saturated due to the size of the operation area. In addition, investing in new port infrastructure and expansion can create significant costs for port authorities. For this reason, InTraDE provides a technological platform to assist with the development of port operations; respecting the environment, whilst allowing for the reduction of socio-economic dispersion in the NWE region. Thus, the main objective of InTraDE is to provide innovative technology development of IAVs, in order to improve traffic management and space optimisation within terminals of all sizes.

“The automation of ports is not a new technological challenge. It was introduced in the 1960s through the concept of automated guided vehicles(AGVs), which were deployed in Rotterdam, Hamburg and Dusseldorf. This technology is and remains efficient for these particular ports. However, this success has not been repeated in other ports in the region, as they have struggled to adapt to the requirements of AGV technology. AGVs require necessary investment in infrastructure in terms of sensor-based guided lines, ground cover, etc. The AGV concept can be transferred to a road-train system that follows guided static lines. However, the system is not really flexible and its integration in different port environments is extremely limited.

“In addition, the considerable weight of AGVs, coupled with its thermal and single-based engine propulsion, results in high emissions during operation. Furthermore, if the equipment is faulty or in stop mode, mobility issues associated with the AGV design can often result in operational delays and disrupt the flow of cargo.

“The IAV concept is a technology much more adapted to the port environment. Sensors embedded on the vehicle carry out the numerous autonomous tasks, meaning that no further investment is required within the yard to acquire this new technology. Among these sensors, a central laser is placed on the four sides of the vehicle chassis. These are used to track targets to the centimetre, or to detect static or moving obstacles in the vicinity of the vehicle.

“In addition, it is also used to measure the longitudinal and lateral acceleration of the vehicle at its gravity centre, including rotation, roll and pitch velocities. The bumper is used to detect any physical contact with the autonomous vehicle, while the position encoders placed on each wheel are used for the odometry of autonomous control.

“Navigation is governed by a global positioning system (GPS) technology coupled with a simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM) algorithm. The IAV, developed as part of the InTraDE project, is an over-actuated heavy vehicle, measuring 13.5 metres in length, 3.0 metres in width and 1.5 metres in height, and is capable of loading 20, 40 and 45 foot containers.” —

Let’s take a closer look at this IAV concept, which, they say, “… is a technology much more adapted to the port environment. Sensors embedded on the vehicle carry out the numerous autonomous tasks, meaning that no further investment is required within the yard to acquire this new technology”.

That sentence is a tipoff. For starters, “autonomous” means independent, self-governed – and that’s a no-no. It translates into job-reduction, and in this case, job elimination.

Would that concept sell in this country? Don’t we have enough problems with joblessness without adding thousands of longshoremen and other container terminal personnel to the nation’s unemployment rolls? Maybe Europeans will give a polite ear to this concept, but promoters will find no such patience on this side of the pond. One could call this, Strike One!

And “… no further investment is required within the yard …”

This, of course, skips over the cost of the “concept” itself. Old-fashioned AGVs, you will recall, were just too expensive to install in all but a very few simple and unsophisticated warehouses. Container terminals are far from being simple and unsophisticated and could never bear the cost of acquisition, operation and maintenance. Do you suppose this new concept with all its expensive and high-tech improvements could be less costly? Strike Two!

And how about the cost outside the terminal? Nothing is mentioned about reducing the number of gates, the number of idling trucks, or the reduction in air pollution in surrounding communities. No mention is made, in fact, of any beneficial changes for truckers or for delivery operations. For the promoters, only the concept itself seems to matter. Strike Three!

Now it’s “our ups”, and we’ll use our AB by simply pointing to our October 14, 2004 commentary (Plus Signs) back in our very first Volume. Though we spelled out 26 distinct advantages to be gained by any container terminal that installs our patented system, we’d like to call attention to the ninth one on the list, which was given as follows:

• Release valuable acreage for other uses (or future expansion).

The money received in just one year from leasing this acreage to real estate developers would be more than enough to fund the construction and installation of our patented system. In other words, unlike today’s touted “autonomous” and “automated” systems, our system is free for the asking.