Internet of Things (IOT)

Port of Rotterdam on Mars!

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Thanks to modern technology, Rotterdam can continue to be the world’s safest, most efficient and most sustainable harbor over the long term. In order to be able to guarantee social and economic value, we regularly attempt to present an image of both the near and distant future. During the recent IBM Think 2018 Conference in Las Vegas, we were able to take a giant step forward in our thoughts thanks to the futurologist Michio Kaku : a ‘digital twin’ of the Port of Rotterdam on Mars!

It is fascinating and, above all, useful to form an idea of what the distant future will look like. But day to day practice in the Rotterdam harbor has taught us that you only make real advances by taking small steps. In this blog I will tell you how my visit and presentations at Think 2018 helps us realize our short-term, intermediate term and long-term objectives.


Applied IT

As a Business Consultant. I focus on applied IT in the port. Think of data communication, sensor technology and all the things associated with this (IoT). The vision that I and my colleagues formulated two and a half years ago has since become a robust program that we are implementing in collaboration with IBM and a few other partners. Basically, as the Port of Rotterdam, we continue to be a place where ships can safely enter and navigate the port, dock, transfer goods, and then be on their way as quickly as possible. However, thanks to digitization, we can drastically improve our service and the possibilities for our customers; we might even become a fully autonomous harbor in the distant future.

The challenge is to translate all these wonderful possibilities to our own organization, so that we can also create value from them within a certain period. All this is closely related to the maturity of the playing field in which you operate. Both internally and externally.

For example, if I currently suggest implementing artificial intelligence somewhere to support the decision-making process, not everyone immediately has a clear idea of what I mean. Thus, there are interim steps between now and the near and distant future; you must carefully consider how you convey a vision or message. The same applies when it comes to being able to convince customers and stakeholders.



I gave two presentations regarding this second issue at IBM Think 2018. As an organization you cannot fall behind in this in a world of increasing robotization and digitization. And in Rotterdam, we want to continue to be at the forefront. We remain ‘digitally connected’ with the rapidly changing environment and set new standards for harbors in terms of data definitions. This is necessary for future communication: a good example is the autonomous ship. Such a ship does not pick up the phone to call our harbor coordination center to say: ‘Hello, I am an autonomous ship. May I enter the harbor?’ No! That communication goes from system to system. The sensors, systems and algorithms do the work; moreover, the data must be 100 per cent accurate.

To be prepared for this, you must take the right interim steps, in such a way that you can also benefit from these steps over the short term. Think of being able to receive and process data and then make it available – to and from ships and any partners in the chain. In this context, we are currently working on making all weather and water conditions available via the IBM Watson IoT platform, so as to be able to make better predictions regarding the circumstances in the harbor. The result is an improved process, which must deliver value for us as well as our customers.

In January, we launched a brand new department = Digital Business Solutions, where many people, with competencies that are new to our organization, are now working on new digital products. They come with new requests for specific data, for example from sensors in the harbor, which my colleagues and I must then deliver. Our connectivity, our IoT platform and our data housekeeping must all be prepared for this.



Back to Las Vegas. One of the presentations zoomed in on the digital twin phenomenon, by which a digital representation of physical items is created. The added value lies in ‘many’ compared to ‘one’. You can’t do much with the digital twin of one machine or one quay wall. The point is to connect many comparable objects to one another. One object can then learn for all the others. When a structure is weakened by too heavy load, a high water level or a specific current, you can modify the limits for other comparable constructions.

Compare this to a child who cuts himself with a sharp object for the first time; the next time he will be more careful. If that child were connected to all children no other child would have to cut him or herself again.



We want to create a digital twin of the entire Rotterdam Harbor. In my presentation, I pose the question: is that then a sum of all digitized things or do we see the harbor as a single object with a specific function? Do we approach this bottom-up or top-down? We have chosen the latter approach, making our most elementary activity – namely safely and efficiently enabling ships to dock and then processing the flow of goods – the focal point. After all, creating digital twins of all our assets and using these to construct a digital representation would be a hopeless task.

For example, we are working on digitizing the ‘journey’ of a ship. To do this, we must know the ship’s size and weight, but the type of kitchen on board or the temperature of the machine room is irrelevant for our purposes. At most, those aspects are part of the digital twin of the ship. Thanks to our knowledge and information regarding ship traffic, waterways, mooring points and connections to the hinterland, we can then determine where and when such a ship can enter the harbor, dock, transfer goods and depart. Then, the essential parts of the trip are digitized. In the future, we can meticulously measure the effects of change and can even run simulations to determine the most efficient and secure execution using the right parameters.


Relationships on a large scale

Another interesting phenomenon at Think 2018 was IBM Digital Thread, with which the relations between all things in an IoT environment are automatically linked using artificial intelligence and cognitive services. When you have millions of sensors, manually entering the relationships between all those sensors is an impossible task. However, you must know these relationships in order to extract valuable information on a large scale. Here, quantum computers may help by creating possible scenarios, based on countless parameters.

Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist who gives lectures and writes popular books, spoke in Las Vegas about the digitization of the human being. In theory, our immortal consciousness can then be transported to another planet at the speed of light using a laser beam. Could we ultimately transport the entire digitized harbor to Mars in a comparable manner? The Port of Rotterdam on Mars!

At any rate, such dreams will give us plenty to think about for the next twenty years. But for the results to be achieved in the next two to five years, we are taking action now. Read my previous blog ‘Turning Rotterdam into the “World’s Smartest Port” with IBM Cloud & IoT’.


Business Consultant at Port of Rotterdam

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