IBM Launches Into Smart Shipping

Big Blue is taking to the seas, air and highways with tools for reducing the environmental impact — and cost — of shipping cargo. In partnership with Kyoto, Japan-based sensor equipment maker Omron Corp., IBM (s IBM) today unveiled a set of tools to help companies gather — and more importantly, manage — data about the energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, fuel expense and efficiency of various shipping routes and modes (cargo ships, trucks, air freight), customized according to the cargo in tow, its weight, and delivery specifications.

Today’s launch comes on the heels of news that the EPA plans to impose tighter emission standards for the shipping industry, and at a time when greenhouse gas emissions are poised to become much more expensive as a result of new climate controls around the globe — which could help generate global interest in IBM’s so-called Modal-Shift Transportation Planner and Virtual Routing Planner. For now, the rollout will be limited to Japanese companies, primarily in the manufacturing and transportation industries, although IBM says it may eventually expand to other countries and industries.

Eric Riddleberger, who heads up IBM’s sustainability consulting practice, likened the tool to UPS’s system for tracking and re-routing of packages within a matter of hours. Previously, he said, companies dealing with a lot of cargo planned routes based on two-dimensional data: time and cost. “It’s static,” Riddleberger said of the information in conventional route planning. By combining algorithms developed at IBM’s Tokyo Research Lab with Omron’s sensor technology, vehicle weight measurement and transportation distance and loading ratios systems, the new tools will provide real-time data, allowing companies to tweak transportation choices for more efficiency.

It remains to be seen how effective IBM and Omron’s tools will be, but adding computing intelligence to the world’s transportation and shipping networks — as for the power grid — holds huge potential for increasing efficiency and opening opportunities for new technologies.