World Port Hackathon 2017: Mendix, RFID and Blockchain

Four team members, 24 hours and the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam: a perfect recipe for a hackathon!

On the 1st and 2nd of September, the Van Nelle Factory was the battleground for the fifth World Port Hackathon, organised by among others The Port of Rotterdam and the Dutch Customs. Our TimeSeries team participated with the goal to combine Blockchain technology, RFID and the Mendix Platform.

We succeeded to combine real world examples of RFID scanning and Blockchain with the Rapid Application Development platform Mendix, turning mere buzzwords into real apps running in the Cloud.

What’s in the container?

The challenge we chose to tackle was one from the Port Authorities of the Port of Rotterdam. It described a situation in which few details are known of a container arriving in the Port of Rotterdam. Usually, only a small description of goods is known by the Port Authorities whenever a container gets unloaded. This description doesn’t provide information about possible harmful contents of a container, like explosives, medicine, livestock or hazardous materials.

This makes it hard to make a risk assessment in order to either let a container pass customs when it’s safe, or crack it open to examine the goods if it’s deemed a risk. The latter scenario would result in delays in most of the cases, in which the receiver of the container would probably miss their on-time delivery.

Since international regulations don’t require anyone to hand over more information about a specific cargo shipment, the Port of Rotterdam asked us via this challenge to come up with a solution where we could improve this complex process. And so we did…

In less than 24 hours, the TimeSeries team developed a Mendix Application usable by both the Port of Rotterdam Authorities, and the receiver of the containers in Rotterdam.

Since I mainly wanted to have insight in my energy consumption, my first step was getting my Smart Meter data in Mendix: mapping the data to create a graph and maybe show my current Gas and Energy usage for the day so far.

Using Mendix I was able to quickly consume an API created in Domoticz, which returns my current Energy or Gas usage. Without too much trouble (I only had to deal with some authentication issues to get my data) I retrieved my data, and was able to map it in Mendix to populate a graph. Next, it was easy enough to create some nice looking cards to create my desired overview.

Within a day (or night, rather) I was able to read my Smart Meter data in Mendix and show it in a graph. Most of that time was figuring out how the Domoticz API worked. The data is even refreshed every minute, to make sure I see the latest data possible!

Receiving party app

After logging in, a receiving party sees an overview of their upcoming shipments, as well as some real-time information about their containers in transit, total amount of containers shipped and total amount of containers inspected.

Registration containers

The receiving party is able to register their containers in the app by adding a container number and specifying some default parameters about what the cargo might hold. This is then stored in the blockchain, making the information immutable and available for everybody with the right permissions. Whenever the receiver has additional information, like a Bill of Lading or Packing Lists (documents that are necessary for shipping your cargo with a carrier), the receiver is able to upload these documents per container as well, which is then added to that container in the blockchain as a separate event.

Everyone loves a good score!

The application calculates a score per container which indicates how efficient the customs handling in the Port of Rotterdam will be executed, based on the information that is added to the container’s in the blockchain. More information means better understanding and communication about the shipment, and quicker handling and processing of the container.

Next to that, an aggregate performance score for the current customer/receiving party is calculated, which gives insight in quality of information provided by this customer, to both the receiver of the shipment and the Port of Rotterdam Authorities.

The overall performance score is also indicated on the receiver’s shipment overview screen.

Customs app

Next comes the second app, aimed at Dutch Customs in the harbor. In this simple dashboard, a customs handler has an overview of all the containers that will arrive within the next three days (a threshold that is now used to assess which containers might be prone to extra checks). By selecting a container, a customs handler can see the past events of that specific container, like the documents and information provided by the receiving party in advance.

One more thing…

We envisioned an approach where containers might soon all be fitted with an RFID antenna. This very inexpensive, printable and weatherproof chip can be used to digitally identify the container, but can also tell you where a specific container has been. By using a smart RFID scanner that can match the scan event with a GPS location, every port is able to exchange information about the location of the container and the state it currently resides in, for instance if it is cracked open or does it look like it contains different cargo than the manifest explains?

All this information can be of great value, so by using our experience with RFID technology, we were able to connect RFID scanning events to a container combined with a GPS location and added this to the containers blockchain.

In the finals of the World Port Hackathon, we scanned a fictive container, which was simulated by putting an RFID antenna in a box, with a handheld scanner. The application then showed this event in the Customs Dashboard as a new event to that container, pulling this information from a real life blockchain that we built and connected to our Mendix app.

So in less than 24 hours we created a working application with Mendix that utilised our Blockchain and RFID platform and fitted it in a real world challenge. We finished in the World Port Hackathon finals and had a great learning experience, meeting contenders from all across the globe.

September 3, 2017
Freek Brinkhuis