The future of: Sentors

In “the future of” article series, the 5G Hub explores the vision and ambitions of parties connected to the 5G Hub, including the intended use of 5G.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the future of Sentors with CEO, Sander Maas. 5G Hub partner Sentors is deploying container recognition solutions in Logistics, helping their customers to be much more effective. At the 5G Hub, Sentors has started to evolve their current 4G solution to a 5G-ready solution.

As of April 2020, 5G Hub visitors can experience a permanent live demonstration of this solution.

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Background

There are currently over 20 million shipping containers in the world, and six million of them are currently traveling around the world on vessels, trucks, and trains. In total, they make around 200 million trips a year. Containers have an identification number and type indication, which are relevant for the logistic operations at container terminals. This includes the seaports, but also the inland terminals, which are the smaller ports in the hinterland, where containers arrive via barges, trains, and trucks.

“Container recognition is relevant at various stages of the terminal operation,” Maas indicates.

Automatic detection of containers has benefits like:
  • Time saving: the truck drivers and terminals planner avoid wasting time manually writing and validating these numbers.
  • Insurance mechanism: to settle disputes about damage, it’s important to have visual proof of a container’s condition before entering the premises.
  • Fault control: verify that the right container has been put on the right truck/barge.

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Machine learning approach

Seaports, such as Rotterdam, have been using automatic recognition systems for years. All incoming and outgoing trucks pass a gantry, which is equipped with various cameras and lighting units. However inland terminals have a much smaller volume and do not have a business case to justify this investment. As such, very few inland terminals have employed such an automated system and most of their operations involve manual actions to enter numbers and take photos when damage is spotted.

Maas explains, “Sentors has developed a 4G-based solution for inland that only needs power and a fence or pole to mount to.”

The photo on the right side gives an example where a standard outdoor camera has been placed at the gate, which automatically captures the container information as well as the license plate of the chassis.

 “In order to obtain robust results on all sorts of containers and in adverse conditions, the solution is leveraging on recent developments in machine learning. The result is a highly robust, flexible and low-cost solution, that brings the benefit to a much larger market than only the seaports.”

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Investigating the benefits of 5G

Sentors has requested to participate in the 5G Hub to explore the anticipated benefits of using 5G over existing possibilities. Sander Maas – CEO Sentors: “we are pleased to get access to the facilities and competence the 5G Hub brings, allowing us to further develop our product portfolio. For our solutions 5G holds the promise of easier maintenance and new installation possibilities, and augmented reality applications where the human inspectors are offloaded.”

Easier to maintain and new installation possibilities

Machine learning models are a game changer in terms of robustness and flexibility, but face one practical drawback: they are computationally expensive. Working on streaming video requires a GPU (graphical processing unit). Therefore, Sentors has chosen for “edge processing”, that is, to use an outdoor-grade hardware system that comes with a GPU and 4G modem, which is placed next to the camera, see the photo for an example.

Although the installation is straightforward, it still requires hardware and local software maintenance. The less needed, the easier it is to deploy such solutions in harsh environments such as cranes and reach stackers (the large “forklifts”) who lift the containers.

This is where a key interest in 5G comes into play: if the machine learning software can run elsewhere, such as somewhere in the telecom network, it would enable a completely new way of rolling out such solutions – resulting in lower system integration cost and newoptions for installations in harsh environments.

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Augmented Reality: a real-time overlay of the planning

The merits of 5G of high bandwidth and low latency become obvious when working on video streams when there is a need to render a real-time overlay on the screen. There are several interesting applications around Augmented Reality in the domain of shipping containers.

For example, train drivers are required to visually check each container according to a planned list. Since this may involve 30 or more containers that all have a very similar number, mistaken do occur – aside from the time investment.

A possible application would be an app where he (or she) just holds the smartphone camera and sees a green checkmark when this container is supposed to be part of the cargo, or a red cross when this particular container should be unhooked or requires additional inspection. He/she might even do this without physically walking and just inspect the video stream in real-time as it slowly drives out of the terminal.

Similar use cases are relevant for the truck driver. When he (or she) takes a picture of a container, he instantly knows the status in the planning (empty/full, destination address, owner, etc.).

Getting to work at the 5G Hub

Sander Maas: ‘We are excited to start the project at the 5G Hub. We have several models we will deploy in de 5G Hub based on our current 4G solution. In particular, our current demo-set-up at the 5G Hub shows the aforementioned Augmented Reality application”.

With the help of Ericsson and VodafoneZiggo engineers, as well as students who will help Sentors, they are well positioned to make full use of the capabilities offered at the 5G Hub.

“Our solution is not limited to only shipping containers; we have also solutions for very different applications such as outdoor stock counting; so every step we achieve in the 5G hub can instantly be applied to these other applications as well’.

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