Aidrivers Ltd.
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Aidrivers Ltd.

Hear from our MD leading change in automation through Ai and Autonomy for ports

You’re based in Singapore with Aidrivers. What do you do out there for the company?

Yes, I’m over in Singapore and have managed the business over here since 2018. I run all the business operations in terms of project execution and deployment as well as looking for business opportunities and partners. I am busy!

We work with the team in London where a lot of the research is done but it has been a challenge with the pandemic as some of my seconded staff have been stuck in the UK. So like the rest of the world we implemented the safety and continuing our work on the grand as well as remote work.

What is your greatest achievement at Aidrivers so far?

This has to be bringing Aidrivers into PSA and helping to secure the first major project for the company. This was a game changer in the road map for Aidrivers as well as the port industry.

I have also helped in securing our strategic partners such as Singapore Technologies, Toyota Industries Corporation and Terberg to lead the autonomous mobility automation market.

What is your background to have been able to link Aidrivers so successfully with these new partners?

I was the Chief Technical Officer for Portek which is one of the leading global engineering service providers for sea ports. I helped the company to build up their engineering technology and then venture overseas to expand their market. Portek was well known for their technical capabilities on port equipment and this has given me deep knowledge in the operation and engineering requirements for sea ports.

From this point I could see that this sector needed new technology to improve its productivity and efficiency. In 2015/16, I helped Toyota Industries Corporation (TICO) to sell two units of automated guided vehicles (AGV) into PSA and thought that this product would be able to sell worldwide. However, I realised that AGVs have many limitations and it is not practical to use them in the existing brown field terminals. More than 90% of the terminals are brown field. Feedback from the customers was that we should just convert the existing prime movers into autonomous units which would allow the terminal operator to deploy these prime movers immediately without any modification to their infrastructure. This technology can also be used in green field terminals.

With this requirement in mind, I went searching for this type of technology in the market and met Dr Swash accidentally in 2017 and we share the vision and understand the sea port needs in autonomy. I managed to introduce Dr Swash into PSA and later we won a project in 2018. So that is how we got to this major collaboration with PSA.

Have you always been interested in this area? What first interested you in this area?

My degree is in Mechanical Engineering from the National University of Singapore and I am a structural designer by trade. So I use all of my background in my role with Aidrivers to run the operations in Singapore.

I am always interested in new technology and will always look for the best and most reliable technologies to solve technical problems. AI enabled autonomous mobility can be used not only for autonomous vehicles but also for many other applications in the sea and other port sectors.

Would you do more education in the field given the constant expansion of the area?

I am currently doing an online learning course in AI and Machine Learning. This course will help me to understand this aspect of AI better and allow me to be creative in problem solving as well as able to assist our colleagues in Singapore and UK. The last module of the course is what I am really keen to investigate but technology learning is often building blocks and to get to the end goal you need to do the basics first. It’s been a great course to establish new knowledge in this area.

What future developments are you excited about?

Looking at the potential for Aidrivers, I am excited at being the first company to successfully implement and deploy a fleet of autonomous vehicle in a seaport and/or airport.

What do you see as the main hurdles for AI enabled autonomous mobility?

There are several hurdles in the AI enabled autonomous mobility.

Firstly, many drivers or operators are worried that they will lose their jobs after the implementation autonomous vehicles and so they may not be supportive in deployment of the projects.

Secondly, as this is a new technology, many customers, authorities and stakeholders are very cautious in the implementation which slows down the development process. This caution is something that I have to manage out with customers regularly. It’s a matter of perception. We work hard with our clients and stakeholders to educate them on the technology and change views to reduce this caution.

Also, there are insufficient trained software engineers and scientists in this field, and we are competing with many rich AI companies globally for the same talent.

These are all issues that I deal with daily and work hard to improve.

What do you see as the future opportunities for AI enabled autonomous mobility?

Ai enabled autonomous mobility has a great potential in Singapore as we aim to be a smart nation in the near future. Many initiatives have been introduced by the Government of Singapore to realise this dream. Singapore will be a leading nation in South East Asia and the other nations will follow suit as they see how the Singaporean Government successfully embraces new technology. Recently the Government has introduced ‘standards’ for automated vehicles which clearly sets parameters and shows how serious the country is in adopting this new technology.

There is currently a 7-year trial for electric buses in the City State and the plan to become a fully EV nation by 2040 reflects just how forward-thinking Singapore is. It makes it a great place to be developing Aidrivers products as we know we have the government on side.

What are the most exciting developments in AI that you see at present?

Many ports in the world can automate their cranes but they are unable to automate the horizontal transport which uses the greatest number of workers in the ports.

If you breakdown the numbers of employees needed they are surprisingly high. Only one operator is required to operate the ship-to-shore crane and 3 operators are needed at the yard to stack the containers. However, 8 prime movers’ drivers are needed to move the containers from the wharf to the yard. These ports are usually working 24/7 and they need 4 shifts of workers. This is a lot of people.

In Singapore, we have approximately 250 ship-to-shore cranes and we need almost 8,000 drivers to serve these cranes. As the containers volume increases, the number of drivers will also increase. With the introduction of the autonomous prime movers, we will be able to drastically reduce the manpower needed to run these operations increasing safety, efficiencies in costs and downtime and sustainability.

Many port operators will try to reduce the dependency on labour after experiencing labour shortage due to Covid-19 to increase resilience going forward. This gives us a lot more opportunity for our technology in ports.

What are the ways you would like to see AI used in the future?

I would really like to see AI help in improving productivity and reduce the dependency on manpower in creating new jobs which are suitable for our future generations. Also reskilling workers to safer jobs is therefore key. We can retrain employees from low tech to higher tech jobs. Maintenance and service will always need people.

AI will help the operators make better operational decisions as they are better informed by the data collected. This in turn will improve forecasts and reduce uncertainty due to labour issues as witnessed through the pandemic so far.

Can you envisage a world with no drivers in any vehicles at all?

Yes! I am looking forward to this scenario happening in the next couple years’ time.



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