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Automatic detection of contaminants on shipping container exteriors

Approximately 3 million 20ft equivalent shipping containers enter Aotearoa New Zealand every year. Despite offshore biosecurity interventions, some of these containers carry unwanted, and potentially biologically dangerous, bugs, snails, reptiles, pathogens and soil.


The aim of this research project is to improve detection rates using smart technology to scan and identify biological organisms.


The project contributes to Aotearoa New Zealand’s biosecurity system by adding another layer of protection to the country’s borders from unwanted incursions of biological threats.


Researchers on this project are using AI technologies to develop new methods of remotely sensing and identifying organisms of potential biosecurity risk on the surfaces of shipping containers.


Since its inception, the project has developed and implemented prototype technology using either visual imaging or a non-imaging laser (lidar) scanning system. The two systems are complementary to improve biosecurity detection. In conjunction with imaging systems, researchers have developed new decision-making computer software to identify contaminant risk for both camera and laser scanning data streams. Both prototypes have been developed and successfully evaluated.


In 2024, the research team will test technology to accurately and rapidly detect contaminants on shipping containers as they are unloaded. This will involve mounting the prototype camera systems on a container crane and testing its performance to capture clear images under a range of climatic conditions.


From a science point of view, success for the project will be technology that allows port authorities and Biosecurity New Zealand to accurately and rapidly detect biosecurity risk organisms on shipping containers as they are unloaded. This in turn will reduce the potential of unwanted organism establishing in Aotearoa New Zealand.


Contact Project Leader Mark McNeill: [email protected]