NYC Hacks Shipping at the Ports & Logistics Hackathon

Feb 3, 2017   |   Briana Vecchione, MSNY Civic Tech Fellow

This month, our team at Microsoft NY collaborated with developers, business people, designers, domain experts, and lawyers as sponsors and mentors to bring modern technology to the international shipping industry at the NYC Ports & Logistics Hackathon. The 48-hour hackathon was a collective effort between Rainmaking Innovation, Ports America, the Port Authority of NY/NJ, Mærsk Group, Microsoft, Quintiq, INTTRA, Cisco and the Red Sea Gateway Terminal. The history of international shipping has seen very little technological disruption, despite accounting for 90% of global trade. A marketplace that employs 13.5 Million people and generates $436.6 Billion in the US alone is a prime opportunity to innovate, and to this we say: Bring in the hackers.

It turns out, the sponsors had an array of premeditated topics for participants to tackle. One of the calls required teams to integrate machine learning or robotic process automation to reduce the need for manual labor. One team discovered that 65% of berths are missed, costing a shipping company $10,000/hr. They created DashPort, a berth management tool for commercial ports that estimated missed berths and costs wasted.

Another topic called for a solution for long lay-over times for shipping containers. Often times, containers are imported and have to pass through several stages including customs clearance and customer pickup. Direct costs incurred through these procedures fall on operators, shippers, and consignees. For this, the team behind BlackBox created a platform to monitor the handling of shipping containers by tracking movement & location.

End-to-end tracking was also presented as a topic for teams, since market dynamics increasingly pressure for shorter product life cycles. Companies have been ordering merchandise in smaller volumes but increasing the frequency of orders, which has placed a heavier demand on less-than-container load (LCL) cargo shipping. For this challenge, a door-to-door tracking platform called Shipment Go was pitched for the transport of consumer goods.

Other topics called for participants to integrate block chain technologies for the trade of CO2 emissions, design new concepts for cyber-resilience in ports, and use big data to design tools that circumvent potential system bottlenecks. The most popular topic by far was predicting cargo flow, which teams aimed to perfect by incorporating weather, holiday delays, traffic, inventory levels, GDP, and other external factors. The winning team built and presented PortDispatch, a community based traffic and navigation app for ports. The team took home $5,000 and access to the sponsor executives for real world application.

Teams pitched their MVPs after 48 hours of building prototypes, rapid fire market validation, and business model invention. The projects were selected by judges based on business potential, technical quality of demo, and applicability for a pilot program. We were impressed by the standard of product and caliber of pitches we saw across the board from participants. Just another day in the life of civic hackers using open data to give us the immediate supply-and-demand economy we all love and depend on.

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