At Port of Seattle, machine learning streamlines air cargo operations

The government agency's air cargo team at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is using artificial intelligence and computer vision for object detection and cataloging to improve operational efficiency.

At Port of Seattle, machine learning streamlines air cargo operations
Vijay Patel / Getty Images

The Port of Seattle may be more than 100 years old, but it's learning some very new tricks. The government agency, which oversees Seattle's seaport and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is using artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision (CV) for object detection and cataloging in the air cargo area of the airport to improve operational efficiency.

Skip Tavakkolian, senior systems architect at the Port of Seattle, says the agency believes machine learning (ML) will fundamentally change the way the port operates. This project, dubbed PlaneInsight, is just the beginning. Tavakkolian says PlaneInsight was primarily developed to give the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) team first-hand experience with modern ML techniques and CV, though he stresses it wasn't just an academic exercise. The air cargo team at the port expects PlaneInsight to help them increase efficiency, reduce delays, and increase accountability with cargo carriers.

"Machine learning is a new discipline for ICT and the port and indeed for most of the tech sector," Tavakkolian says. "As we understood what is possible with ML, we began to identify problems where non-ML solutions would be impractical or expensive."

Manual solutions don't scale, Tavakkolian explains, while the existing automatic solutions tend to rely on expensive and specialized hardware, like proximity sensors.

"Using computer vision allowed us to take advantage of our existing security camera infrastructure for video streams and our datacenter infrastructure for collection of snapshots, creation of training datasets, training of neural networks, and performing inference (i.e., analysis) on images," he says.

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