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logo PILL

The project Physical Internet Living Lab (“PILL”) started at the beginning of 2021. The Physical Internet (“PI”) is an innovative concept, a next-generation vision on efficient, resilient and sustainable logistics. The PI aims to interconnect transport networks, looking to move freight in the most optimal way ⎯ from origin to destination. But before going into detail, let’s start with some terminology.

Pill current and future

Left: Current situation, right: Our plan for the future


Physical Internet
Living Lab
modular map

Visual of how channels, highways and railroads look like on a “modular map”

PILL: scope and objectives of the project

PILL, a cSBO-project, aims to contribute to academic as well as applied knowledge. In order to strike that balance between being rooted in practice and being academically grounded, the Living Lab-toolkit has proven itself to be most suited.

Within the PILL-project, researchers and developers will work in close cooperation with the port and logistics sector to develop new concepts that still face considerable challenges, before they can be implemented in daily operations and/or business offerings. 

The physical internet is all about connecting the dots. PI and its related concept of synchromodality are very much related and can enhance each other. They hold great promise in allowing the next generation of logistical processes to be more efficient, reliable, flexible and sustainable. The main objective of PILL is to leverage the state-of-the-art in physical internet assets (knowledge, hardware and software) into two pilot testbeds in Flanders. These testbeds will be focused on maritime logistics processes and within Flemish port terminals.

To enable synchro-modality and physical internet we need the following technologies, techniques and components: traceability, intelligent systems, data analytics, optimization, simulation and integration platforms. In the above taxonomy of elements that constitute a PI architecture, we position Digital Twins (one for each port) as the nexus in which all the necessary components for a physical internet system are combined. As such, the Digital Twin constitutes the system that integrates all the necessary components. Not only will it support simulation of PI processes, but it will also focus on the interactions with the logistics operators that determine daily decisions and make the logistics machine tick. The PILL project will thus address several aspects related to the PI by focusing on:

  1. Autonomous operations in logistics nodes where Digital Twins create value-added services for ports and terminals.
  2. Network resiliency where digitalized and automated operations in nodes (ports/terminals) demonstrate reconfiguration and realignment of logistics processes in case of disruptions and other perturbations. The resilience measures will consider synchro-modal approaches with regard to dynamic synchronization of modes, their capacities and schedules.
  3. Exploitation of IoT data and transparency levels to improve interconnectivity of different loading units such as containers, pallets, boxes and parcels termed as π-containers
  4. Establishing business and governance models for safe and secure exposure and sharing of object data

The infrastructure in the testbed will be co-created together with all relevant stakeholders, in order to make the deployed physical internet system viable and well-integrated in the local operational ecosystem.

First, we will design a physical internet IT architecture. This architecture will represent a system that supports physical internet processes, based on state-of-the-art hardware and software components and knowledge. Once the architecture is created, we will build a reference implementation of the architecture to be tested in the operational tests that will occur within the living lab testbeds

The architecture of the PILL systems would look like the visual below.

PILL architectuur

To understand the architecture, we should start its explanation from the π-containers. These will be equipped with the necessary hardware and software to communicate container data to the other components of the PILL architecture. This communication will use IoT communication protocols. The data that follows from the container will be stored in a mix of a distributed ledger and/or database. In the center of the visual you see a Digital Twin. This is at the center of the PILL architecture, acting as the brain of the system and combining all the data and algorithms from agent-based models that are necessary to make the system work. As we will likely move to a future where there are multiple Digital Twins in operation, it is useful to focus on standardized ways to interact with PI Digital Twins. This is where the API layer comes into play, allowing standardized interactions between various components of the PILL architecture. Besides the interactions with the distributed ledger, the API will also allow interaction with relevant data sources.

The ultimate purpose of the PILL-project is to create a hands-on PI information system prototype, which will be co-designed with real prospective users and validated in a representative real-world environment, as is customary for Living Lab-projects.

Expected impacts and outcomes

What would we like to achieve with the project? Firstly, we want to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of node processes by utilizing assets and spare capacities in order to accommodate transport demand and facilitate the complex physical reality of logistics. In this regard, optimization of human resources, equipment, infrastructure etc. will be taken into account.

Secondly, we want to create transparent real-time services to be used by companies operating within nodes connectable to long-distance flows by rail, road or inland waterways.

Main visual

Main visual of PILL of how we want to interconnect different nodes

Furthermore, we will devise collaborative and proactive strategies for companies enabling them to use their assets to the maximum. The latter, proactive, refers to proactive solution-seeking of IoT objects when receiving different ETAs of transport means approaching the nodes. This will result in the development of new operational models as well as business models that support autonomous interaction between PI nodes and its network(s).

And last, but not least: we want the Digital Twins to create a symbiosis between the virtual risk-free environment and the real physical system. Such a symbiosis will contribute to reducing infrastructure investments and expansion as a result of enhanced and improved operations within nodes.

Partners and their roles

Visual partners pill
The Advisory Board