Leveraging the Internet of Things to make seaports safer

We often hear that the Internet of Things is going to change the world, alas real-world examples of IoT applications are depressingly scarce.

Internet of Things shipping industry
Credit: Getty Images

The IoT is perhaps the biggest source of press-release hyperbole in the IT industry at the moment. I see dozens of press releases a week and at least half of them would include reference to predictions by analyst firms like IDC and Gartner, which have predicted tens of billions of connected devices over the next few years. While the numbers and the timing of these predictions always differ, the volume with which they're articulated is always set to maximum.

Unfortunately, despite a plethora of examples of these statistics being used in press releases, there is a sad dearth of great case studies of how the IoT is actually being utilized today. One came over my desk recently that is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, because it is a proof point about this sensor-driven solution but, more importantly, it is a great example of technology being applied to a very old and established industry.

Gemalto, a digital security vendor, is behind a case study that saw the IoT being applied to international shipping. HidroMares, a leading oceanography consulting firm, developed the real-time weather-oceanographic information system which monitors waves, currents, water depth, temperature, and salinity to improve navigation safety, streamline ship traffic, and increase port productivity.

The telemetry system leverages modems by Duodigit, a provider of telemetry and biometrics technology products, to collect various ocean data from sensors deployed on buoys, piers, and the seabed in ports. The modems use Gemalto machine-to-machine modules with embedded Java to process and send data via wireless networks and the Internet to a back-end server. Port workers sign on securely and use the data to improve real-time decision-making and optimize port productivity.

This isn't your regular run-of-the-mill IoT situation. The oceans are wild places which test the extremes of the operating ability of technology. There is a reason that, despite the plethora of different technologies available to shipping companies, many still use the oldest of approaches; lighthouses, for example, despite easy access to advanced GPS navigation.

"Sampling of oceanographic data is done in extremely hostile environments requiring rugged durability of system components during installation and maintenance. The transmission of real-time data demands a robust system that is reliable continuously in all conditions, 365 days a year," says Alexandre De Caroli, Technical Director of HidroMares.

Add to that the need to make a solution that works within the budget-conscious shipping industry, and HidroMares faced a challenge that ended up creating one of the better IoT examples I've seen. The solution has been deployed in Latin America including deployment at Porto of Açu in Rio de Janeiro state, whose location near Campos Basin is strategic to the petrol industry.

Not only is this solution delivering information that can be utilized by ships for their safety, it is also being used as a productivity tool to optimize the shipping companies' supply-chain logistics to improve fuel economy.

Whatever the number of connected devices that will exist in the future, these stories of real-world applications will be the most exciting. I'm looking forward to case studies like these getting us past the usual hype and hyperbole.

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