From research to the road: Collaborations create AI-driven planner for truck routes

- Ottawa, Ontario

A transport truck drives on a snowy highway.

Trucking is getting safer and more efficient, thanks to collaborative research. The National Research Council of Canada (NRC), the University of Calgary, the City of Calgary and 2 of Canada’s largest transportation companies have worked together to develop new smart AI-driven tools for truck-route planning.

By anticipating traffic patterns, the new software gives planners the information they need to help them choose the most effective routes. This is particularly helpful in extreme weather conditions, such as blizzards and freezing rain, that can cause havoc on highways and city streets.

Using the software reduces the travelling distance and number of vehicles needed to deliver goods from depots to destinations. It also has a significant beneficial impact on finances and the environment. For example, each minute of travel time saved in a transport truck can be worth hundreds of dollars. In addition, less time spent driving or idling in traffic congestion can lead to reductions in CO2 emissions.

"This partnership provides researchers with real-world logistics data to help us understand each industry client's unique problems," says Dr. Yunli Wang, Senior Research Officer at the NRC's Digital Technologies Research Centre. "We can then develop practical solutions and training programs that benefit not only them but also the Canadian economy."

By the numbers

These AI-enabled tools to support decision-making compare and combine each client's actual datasets with GPS trajectory data. They also pave the way for planners to move from traditional logistics practices to more advanced AI tools. And they can be adapted for many types of challenges.

"Collaborating with us enables companies to leverage cutting-edge AI technologies, optimizing their planning tools," says Dr. Xin Wang, Lead Investigator and University of Calgary professor in the Department of Geomatics Engineering. "At the same time, our projects provide students with valuable real-world application experience, ensuring they enter the Canadian job market well prepared."

In the project carried out with the City of Calgary, the AI tool used deep learning models to improve traffic predictions in extreme weather. Tests showed it can improve travel time by 14% and speed by 13%, and reduce CO2 emissions by 4%.

Canada Cartage, one of the country's largest transportation and logistics companies, is aiming to reduce total travelling distance and number of vehicles by optimizing regional networks. They supplied researchers with real industrial data that they analyzed and compared with commonly used GPS data. The team's proposed solution can reduce the total distance travelled by about 19% and the number of vehicles used by 24%.

Bison Transport, a freight solutions provider that owns more than 3,000 tractors and 10,000 trailers and containers, faces unique routing challenges. Vehicles serve both scheduled and ad hoc freight, which requires additional equipment on a moment’s notice.

Preliminary findings show that the software developed by the NRC and University of Calgary team will help Bison's route planners cut potential wait times for these unexpected customers by more than 33%. The proposed method integrates trailer repositioning, driver and trailer scheduling, and vehicle routing.

The AI-driven methodologies developed by the team are based on clients' actual data and can be extended, adapted and applied to any city and scenario, as well as used for short-term forecasting. Eventually, route planners will also be able to add custom features to the software.

Navigating the future

"These projects were created within the NRC's AI for Logistics program, which provides opportunities for some of Canada's top researchers to develop solutions for real-world logistics problems," says program lead Margaret McKay.

"We are now actively seeking industry partners who want to enhance their operations by combining their data with these AI technologies. The more of Canada's geography that these tools see, the better they can serve everyone. This is good for companies, citizens and the environment. Let's keep working together to make supply chain and logistics excellence a competitive advantage for Canada."

The AI for Logistics program brings together top researchers from the NRC and universities to address pressing Canadian challenges. The NRC also provided funding to train at least 120 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in this growing area. Such graduates are in high demand as industry and government begin to leverage AI to improve transportation.

Learn more about other collaborative research and development projects funded through the NRC.

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