Autonomous Ports: Making Marine Shipping More Sustainable

The shipping industry represents a pivotal node in the world economy, representing almost 90% of international trade.   However, the current environmental footprint of the shipping industry is enormously concerns because of the type of fuel it burns. Bunker fuel is predominately used in the shipping industry and is the world’s dirtiest fuel. It emits 3% of the greenhouse gases and is responsible for double-digit percentages of some air pollutants, marine litter, and discharges of ship garbage into the sea.

Fortunately, this environmental impact can be controlled with a sustainable approach integrated into the shipping supply chain network, including transportation, equipment, and infrastructure and the hub of the shipping network

            It is encouraging to see that corporations as diverse as shipping giant Maersk and technology leader Microsoft have realized the importance of adopting viable strategies to mitigate the sustainability challenges constituted by shipping in general and container ports in particular.   

            David Catzel, a leading business innovator, has found himself an unanticipated champion of making marine shipping more sustainable. His fascinating journey has been one of many twists, turns, and surprises. He kicked off his professional career as a media producer creating and executing large-scale multimedia experiences for Fortune 500 companies, including new product launches for major Japanese car companies.

The creative success of these events provided a foundation for David Catzel and his partner Kit Thomas to launch KitCat, a music production company. The company became known for its creativity and the commercial quality of its work. It generated dozens of music videos for MTV for renowned artists as diverse as Donna Summer and John Denver. Over time, however, Catzel and Thomas set out on separate paths, with the former deciding to explore the role played by digital technology in media.

            In 1990, Catzel joined North Communications, an IBM partner company, as the Vice President of New Business. Here, he was tasked with devising strategies to leverage technology to make communication between citizens and government services more fluid and efficient during public sector budget cuts.   Catzel supervised the development and deployment of interactive kiosks with touchscreens that featured a friendly graphical user interface, vivid touchscreens, and multi-lingual on-camera narration, which allowed the general citizenry to access government services for 18 hours a day.

Four years later, continuing his work at the intersection of media and technology, Catzel started working as the Technical Director at LucasArts in 1994 and subsequently assumed the responsibility of the Director of Corporate Sponsorship. During his stint at LucasFilm, he was focused on developing a technology platform and software control system for projectors, lasers, light, signage, and effects. The system was designed to bring life to George Lucas’s vision for the international deployment of next-generation entertainment marketplaces, which would change the complexion from morning to night in concert with the changing demographic of the visitors. Unfortunately, the project was shelved when Mr. Lucas secured his deal for the three Star Wars prequels.

Catzel continued to build on his media and technology experience at Intel between 1996-and 2001, where he served as Director of Strategic Media Investments at Intel Capital. Here he developed and implemented that company’s digital sports strategy, which led to a multi-hundred-million-dollar business in only a few years.

After serving in a number of executive business building roles with promising young media and technology ventures, he was recruited by Microsoft in 2010 to lead its Developer Platform Evangelism efforts with the media and entertainment industries for partners including The Walt Disney Company, Paramount Pictures, and Sony. His work included entertainment application development across all platforms, from mobile to Xbox. 

David spent 2018-2019 with an Israeli cyber security firm but returned to Microsoft in 2020 to serve as Senior Industry Strategist, Automotive, Mobility, and Transportation Industry. Here, he consults with the senior leadership across automotive, air, and shipping companies around the future of mobility and autonomous transportation, electrification, sustainability, and associated public policy and how it affects the future of their business

Sustainability and Marine Shipping: Fusing the Two

            For Catzel, technological innovation and sustainability go hand in hand to make marine transport and trading more viable and efficient. He is currently focused on how to leverage existing IoT, Big Data, analytics, and other technologies to drive automation and autonomous vehicles and equipment and improve the infrastructure, intermodal traffic, logistical management, safety, etc., of ship ports in a way that supports and ameliorates environmental issues.

According to Catzel, big data, IoT, and analytics will allow ports to communicate with smart ships and containers in real-time, reducing congestion at ports. Moreover, doing so will further save power as ships will no longer have to sit idly at ports, waiting for their turn to be unloaded. IoT will also allow vessels to arrive and depart in a timely fashion and allow them to navigate the waters using a controlled speed, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Loading and unloading of cargo and its delivery can also be optimized using automated cranes and vehicles. Instead of only managing their internal operations, smart technologies will also allow ports to act as an intermodal logistics data hub, which will connect all the players in the chain, a step that Catzel deems essential for a business to succeed in the 21st century. Catzel also recommends incorporating other modes of transportation such as railway systems and unmanned aerial vehicles in the data hub, which, according to him, will make the task of moving freight from one stage to the next in the supply chain much easier effective. An additional benefit of incorporating autonomous technologies at ports is that they serve as a viable alternative in the case of labor shortages, operational inefficiency, and cost restrictions.

Catzel’s central philosophy revolves around the idea that business in our time operates in an ecosystem of many different sectors and services, driven by data and sharing a symbiotic relationship with one another. This approach is also clearly noticeable in the vision he sketches out for autonomous container ports. At a time when there is an urgent need for sustainable and viable business practices, Catzel’s attempt to make one of the largest trade sectors, i.e., marine shipping, more sustainable by using innovative technologies must be appreciated.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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