Oxford Uni students win prize for idea to reduce pollution from world’s shipping industry

Winners AI Climate Change Weekend

A team of students from the University of Oxford has won a competition to find new ways of solving climate change using artificial intelligence (AI) – winning £6,000.

They have created an AI tool to predict more accurately the arrival time of ships into port, cutting carbon emissions and saving fuel.

Around 90 per cent of the world’s global trade is transported by ship. The world’s 15 biggest ships produce more nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides – a major contribution to air pollution – than all the world’s cars put together.

But with weather delays creating uncertainty in ship arrival time, they often reach ports before they are ready. Having better data to predict arrival times means that ships can reduce their speed – thus reducing fuel consumption and air pollution.

‘Currently there is not a widely available and comprehensive AI solution for predicting ship arrival times based on weather,’ says Dylan Barratt from Cinderella, the winning team. ‘If we use data strategically to reduce the speed of ships by just 10 per cent, we will see a 28 per cent reduction in fuel consumption at those times without any loss of competitiveness. This could have a huge impact in terms of global emissions.’

The competition was the culmination of the third AI Impact Weekend run by the Oxford Foundry, the University’s entrepreneurship centre (8-12th February), held in collaboration with EY. Data sets were provided by IBM.

Over the weekend, interdisciplinary teams were asked to design an innovative AI-based solution to address one aspect of global warming. Students didn’t need any prior knowledge of AI and were supported by a series of skills workshops and mentors from industry and academia. Over 140 students from 36 colleges took part.

Runner-up prizes of £2,000 were awarded to two other teams. The best technical solution went to the Climate Development Lab for their AI-enabled solar cells for windows. The prize for business solution was won by Pyre-ates, which uses AI to predict wildfires. All the winning teams can also take part in a six-week start-up sprint programme to develop their ideas yet further.

Established in 2017 by Saïd Business School, the Oxford Foundry supports the University’s 24,000 student to tackle world issues through venture creation. It’s Director, Ana Bakshi, said: “Experts agree that we must reach net-zero global emissions by 2050 in order to stave off the worst effects of global warming. AI has the power to deliver the kind of radical solution that is needed to meet this challenge. By bringing students from different disciplines together with experts from AI and climate change, we have stimulated new debate and ideas.”