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Zhenhua and Westwell jointly launch the world's first self-driving straddle carrier

    Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industry Co Ltd and Westwell Lab co-launched their self-driving container straddle carrier on January 14, the first of its kind in the world.

    There are more than 500 piers around the world using straddle carriers, but the automated carriers only account for 5 percent of them, said Huang Qingfeng, chairman of Zhenhua Heavy Industry, for most of the straddle carriers use the magnetic nail guidance system and base station guidance system, which come at a large cost at low operation efficiency.

    Westwell, an artificial intelligence enterprise which was established in 2015 and now has 50 some employees, has developed their own chips and algorithms for the port industry. When the company planned to create automated straddle carriers, Zhenhua decided to cooperate with it.

    The two companies formed partnership in last August. Zhenhua is responsible for the hardware design, and Westwell for the development of multiple control system, artificial intelligence solutions, and the carrier's dispatching system.

    By equipping the carriers with machine learning algorithms, and cameras and millimeter-wave radar as its "eyes," the carrier can perform auto-driving, obstacle avoiding, container position detecting, and grasping, straddling, and releasing containers with centimeter accuracy.

    The automated carriers can save a lot of costs, said Tan Limin, chief technology officer of Westwell. A medium-sized pier in China would spend more than 50 million yuan (US$7.77 million) on straddle carriers, container truck drivers, and the cost would be even more in America and European countries. Also, the automated straddle carriers are safer, and can operate 24/7 and increase the operation efficiency of piers by 50 percent.

    Huang predicts that the automation rate of the global piers will reach 20 percent in the near future. So, most manufacturers of straddle carriers will research and develop self-driving straddle carriers.