For more than 10,000 years, humans have been building ships to navigate the world’s waterways. Even in the age of bullet trains and electric cars, ships remain indispensable for moving things from A to B. Over the past few months, we’ve been working with MARIN and Deltares, two major players in maritime innovation. Using smart shipping data, they’re the key research partners in CoVadem, an initiative building a digital platform to make waterway transport faster, cheaper, and better for the planet. Today’s ships are modern vessels, equipped with sensors that gather data around the clock. This data contains valuable information about river depths and ship performance. By pooling and analyzing data from a big fleet of ships, it’s possible to map the rivers of Europe in almost real-time.
Using data to make shipping smarter is at the core of the CoVadem project. The idea is simple. Collaborating vessels gather depth readings and send their data to a central server. On shore, CoVadem filters, processes, and enriches the data. The enriched information is then re-distributed to the ships, in a way that helps skippers gain insight into current and upcoming river conditions.
Why that’s important? Changing river conditions are a challenge to inland water transporters, as the amount of cargo a ship can carry depends on the water depths it’ll encounter. Knowing what to expect in advance is of great help to skippers. Water depth predictions let them optimize their carrying capacity. This way, enriched river data and real-time ship information can improve cost efficiency and environmental performance.
Building a dashboard for smart data
Earlier this year, MARIN and Deltares approached aFrogleap to develop an online platform for the delivery of their enriched river data services to the vessel owners. The result is a user-friendly web app powered by React JS. Skippers can access the platform on any of their devices.
Meeuwis van Wirdum is project coordinator of the CoVadem initiative, and co-founder of the recently established CoVadem enterprise. Over the past few months, we’ve been working with him and his team to deliver the first version of the Covadem web app. For this blog, we asked Meeuwis some questions about the project.
Hi Meeuwis! What was the challenge that made you get in touch with aFrogleap?
“For more than five years, we’ve been building smart algorithms that allow ships to share their river depth data and other measurements. We use this data to generate an almost real-time overview of available water depths along European rivers.”
“Although our engineers are great at handling data, we have less experience in building user-friendly interfaces. As our customers need an easy way to access this information, design and user experience play an important role in the adoption of CoVadem’s services. That’s why we reached out to aFrogleap in the spring of 2017.”
How did you kick off the project?
“Before we got in touch with aFrogleap, we already had various mock-ups. We also knew what customers expected from our product. That turned out to be a good starting point for our cooperation. After a few days with aFrogleap, we finished the first UX concept designs. That allowed us to start prioritizing different features.”
“As a client, you always want to have as many features as possible, and all of them working flawlessly. Although we have not yet realized all our plans, it took us only a few weeks to set up a functional platform. In the months ahead, we’ll keep expanding its functionalities.”
Last month, you did a demo of the web app with some skippers. How did they react?
“The response to the web app was positive. Users could find their desired information intuitively. We also got constructive feedback, which we’ll use for further development.”
“It was good to see that our web app provides what users from previous test sessions requested. On top of that, users were looking forward to the stuff that’s still on our backlog. We’re on the right track, so we’ll definitely keep the development going.”
What features would you like to add to the web app later on?
“We aim to build not just a web app, but an entire platform where skippers can find the information they wouldn’t be able to gather on their own. In the long run, our ambition is to personalize the platform further. That way, users can see what is most relevant to their ship, journey, time and position. The web app is a valuable gateway to that platform. It helps us introduce CoVadem to many different parties in a short amount of time.”
What do you think of the Agile and Scrum methodologies we use at aFrogleap?
“Agile and Scrum were fitting methodologies for our phased and focused development. As a client, you want to be sure your budget will get you a minimum viable product. Sometimes, that leads to discussions. To find the right balance in a joint development process, you need a culture of honest feedback. Thankfully, working with aFrogleap was open and transparent. The team quickly became a fellow ambassador of our ambitions.”
What is your five-year vision for CoVadem?
“Right now, we’re transforming our research-based initiative into an independent organization. Our focus is continuity and growth. In five years, we’ll have over 250 ships gathering river data. A much larger group of customers will be using our information through a subscription model.”
“In the future, our transparent benchmarking tools will cause a significant drop in CO2 emissions from inland water transport. Ships will be loaded more efficiently, and operational costs will be lower. On top of that, our data will inform research that can lead to many societal benefits. Insight into river conditions can help optimize ship designs. Our data can also support innovative water management by creating better prediction models, which lowers risks and increases water safety.”
Do you see a role for aFrogleap in that future?
“I think aFrogleap can certainly help us. As a partner for further sparring and cooperation, they can support us while we’re developing new possibilities, features, and applications.”
Building a digital platform from scratch can be challenging. To make projects like these less unpredictable, we use Product Design Sprints. In this 5-day process, we help you validate your idea by testing it with real users. This way, you'll be sure you're going down the right path.