Artificial intelligence for the management of maritime operations
February 06, 2019
By Suzel Tunes | FAPESP Research for Innovation – Soluções Integradas em Ambientes Aquáticos (SIAA – the name means “integrated solutions for aquatic environments”) was founded in 2014 by Brazilian oceanographer Felipe Murai Chagas to provide consulting services. A year later, the startup successfully submitted a Phase 1 proposal to FAPESP’s Innovative Research in Small Business Program (PIPE) for a project to test the feasibility of developing a computer-based platform for environmental monitoring and forecasting in maritime areas using numerical models and artificial intelligence.
Between 2016 and 2018, SIAA also received support to help market its prototype from the PIPE/PAPPE Grant Program, which combines funding from FAPESP and FINEP, the federal government’s innovation agency.
“We developed a minimum viable product, or MVP, and currently, we’re implementing it for selected customers, adjusting the system to tailor it to specific requirements,” Chagas says.
The Integrated Forecasting and Safety System (Portuguese-language acronym SIPS) is a module of the platform that can be used to forecast conditions for ships to approach ports and docks, for example. The system does this by analyzing environmental drivers such as waves, tides, winds, currents and swells.
The idea is to make the Brazilian shipping and port sectors safer and more efficient. “SIPS provides specific alerts for maritime operations. It can be used in port management to assist in the control of ship arrivals and departures or to monitor flood risks in coastal areas, wave and wind agitation in marinas, and so on,” Chagas says.
The results generated by the system are available online around the clock, enabling customers to use the alerts in the day-to-day management of operations, enhancing efficiency, profitability and safety, as well as standardizing operations. “Port efficiency is often low because many ships delay docking based on the models used, which don’t offer security for adequate planning,” Chagas says.
Most port managers, Chagas explains, make decisions regarding ship arrivals on the basis of experience and weather forecasts for large areas, which are relatively imprecise. SIAA obtains local data by running models with a wide array of sources, including foreign agencies such as the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Copernicus (the European Earth Observation Program), in addition to private-sector companies in the meteorology industry. “We connect businesses, people and forecasting. To do this, we have to combine globally established data with local technology,” Chagas says.
The system developed by SIAA can be used by port terminals, shipping companies, marinas, and even by civil defense organizations in coastal communities. The system comprises a large number of tools and functions that are appropriate in all these situations. “For example, it can calculate ship movements under different environmental conditions and assess the risk of listing or running aground,” Chagas says.
The creation of a specific database for each user enables the system to be customized. The technology will be offered as a subscription service. Chagas is betting that increased efficiency will attract more customers. “Maritime operations in general are costly and involve billions of dollars annually. With more productivity, one month’s use of the service could turn out to be equivalent to an entire annual fee,” he says.
Another sales argument is the possibility of using the platform for the purpose of proving compliance with safety and security requirements, which ports need to win environmental certification and burnish their international reputation to attract more business. “Every certificate has specific requirements, but they all attest to the port’s or nautical facility’s concern about protecting the environment against pollution, gas emissions, oil spills, etc.,” Chagas says.
Above all, the system contributes to a reduced risk of accidents near the coast. “Accidents, especially spills or leaks in the oil and gas sector, can do very serious environmental damage,” Chagas says. “They can be extremely harmful to marine organisms and traditional fishing communities that depend on the sea for their subsistence, not to mention the risk to the lives of workers in the industry. Our system can considerably reduce the risk of accidents, as it provides information in advance of extreme events that make coastal activities hazardous.”
Chagas has a master’s degree in marine sciences from the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil and is a specialist in numerical modeling, which is a technique that, in oceanography, uses measurements and knowledge about the behavior of the oceans to calculate forecasts and computational simulations. In developing the project funded by PIPE, SIAA received FAPESP’s support to pay for technical trainees via scholarships. “Having IT professionals thanks to this support from FAPESP was essential to the project. They enabled us to develop a robust and reliable computer-based system,” Chagas says.
According to SIAA’s founder, another important contribution from FAPESP was training in entrepreneurship. Chagas was one of 15 researchers involved in projects supported by PIPE who went to the United Kingdom in November 2015 to participate in the Leaders in Innovation Fellowships (LIF) training program hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng). “This training program equipped me to orient the development of the system with a global vision instead of focusing only on the domestic market,” Chagas recalls. “I’m still part of the LIF Community, a network for LIF fellows and partners worldwide to innovate together online. At least once a year, the Academy holds meetings and training events for us to keep our innovation knowledge up to date and solve the challenges we face in our projects.”
The two-week course in the UK gave Chagas a clearer and more comprehensive view of the market for his product. “Contact with the market inspired us to envisage new ways to present data and new ways to meet specific requirements,” he says. “In response, we designed a more complete product that resolves more of civil society’s needs.”
At present, the startup is investing to enhance the system’s graphical user interface for the web and smartphones and to expand its potential market by developing a new application called dooClima, which will provide environmental forecasts for urban, rural and maritime areas based on local numerical models. “Within the dooClima interface, SIPS is the specific module for the maritime sector,” Chagas says.
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