TUS and Zinkworks team up to make autonomous ports a reality

30 Jan 2023

From left: TUS principal investigator Dr Enda Fallon, TUS president Prof Vincent Cunnane, Zinkworks CEO Paul Madden and Zinkworks COO Aileen Cramer. Image: Ashley Cahill

The two organisations have formed a €2m research group, which aims to make a prototype to manage a full port ecosystem, including the cranes and vehicles that transport shipping containers.

The Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) has teamed up with ICT start-up Zinkworks to make autonomous shipping ports a reality.

The two organisations have created a research group, which aims to make a prototype for managing a full port ecosystem autonomously, including the cranes and the vehicles that transport shipping containers.

The research group contains 15 research staff and PhD students, along with €2m in funding to support the endeavour. The initial funding came from the IDA and Enterprise Ireland through the Innovation Partnership Programme.

The project’s principal investigator Dr Enda Fallon said the research could help “smooth the issues with global supply chains”.

“Using 5G intelligent telecommunications management systems, we will be able to alleviate congestion in a port, taking into account things like when did the last ship come in, where did the containers go, how they are stacked and stored and how does that impact the network coverage,” Fallon said.

However, Fallon pointed out the importance of understanding the environment and ensuring the autonomous vehicles stay connected, as there are various risks if the network coverage isn’t sufficient.

“Imagine if, due to a crane having issues with the network, a shipping container weighing 100 tons ends up dangling 40 feet in the air in windy conditions because of poor coverage,” Fallon said. “That’s a serious safety hazard.”

Zinkworks, which provides connectivity services for the telecoms and financial service sectors, plans to launch its first telecoms product through this research collaboration with TUS.

The ICT start-up has grown to more than 200 employees across Athlone, Letterkenny and Hyderabad in India. The company’s CEO Paul Madden said that, as 5G networks roll out to complex environments such as ports, it is important to understand the impact these changing environments can have on the quality of service.

“The collaboration with TUS will provide this knowledge and through machine learning, modelling will define how best to optimise coverage required for complex industry use cases,” Madden said.

Last December, it was announced that TUS is due to get a new STEM building, consisting of science labs as well as administration and ancillary space. The new building is part of a €250m boost being provided to multiple campuses in the eastern, southern and midlands regions of Ireland.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic