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Cutting edge digital technology will transform the UK’s strategic trade corridor to Europe

Port of Dover

3 min read Partner content

Dover’s success in driving the UK’s key trading relationship with its most important partner – mainland Europe – creates parallel operational challenges at the international border inside the port. Major infrastructure modifications represent an important step forward reinforced by artificial intelligence-driven innovation that is already signposting dramatic advantages in streamlining traffic flows and enhancing decarbonisation

The need to ensure the future resilience of the UK’s key trading relationship with Europe becomes increasingly important as continued success creates more operational challenges at the international border in Dover.  

The Port of Dover facilitates one third of all UK goods traded with mainland Europe – valued at £144bn – with 2.4m trucks and 11 million passengers travelling on up to 118 ferry crossings per day, 364 days per year. The strategic value of this achievement demands a sustained focus on building a seamless transition through the international border from UK departure points to all final destinations. 

Linear solutions that rely on the exponential increase in vehicle holding zones to accommodate any congestion are economically disruptive and geographically impractical in a port where space is constrained both by the White Cliffs and the Channel itself. Instead, the solution is to transition from infrastructure-enabled traffic management to more dynamic, technologically-driven operations.  

In effect, Dover will harness data from every aspect of port activity to reduce complex, apparently random events into a series of complementary digital twins delivering real-time recommendations that will deliver a better customer experience and faster travel through the port. 

The port now captures images from cameras and sensors across the strategic road network and reinterprets this static data to predict traffic converging on Dover in 15-minute segments, 24 hours per day up to 15 days in advance. Real-time events such as accidents or the closure of the Dartford Crossing, for example, are immediately incorporated into automatically updated traffic predictions. Constant data feedback drives systematic improvements in accuracy as predictions are matched against actual events. Equally important, this in-built accuracy generator ensures that traffic managers at the port can not only identify vehicles destined for the ferry terminals but also differentiate between trucks, coaches and cars. 

From summer 2024 onwards the port will monitor and constantly refresh real-time data intelligence on traffic flows through border control lanes together with processing times at document clearance and passenger check-in points. 

These developments represent a conceptual step-change in the Port’s operational capabilities and have only become possible through successful collaborations with leading research institutions ranging from the Universities of Manchester, Kent and Plymouth to the Digital Catapult, the Department for Transport funded Connected Places Catapults and Entopy (the Port’s SME technology partner supported by the Connected Places Catapults Freight Innovation Fund Accelerator programme). 

In parallel, the complexity and scale of these multi-dimensional solutions will demand significant and sustained investment in IT infrastructure – including access to high-speed quantum computing to manage the dramatic expansion in data processing. However, IT infrastructure alone is not enough. There is a fundamental requirement to develop a specialist skilled workforce with the expertise to deliver continuous systems development. Industry alone lacks the capacity to meet this quantum shift in strategic skill building. Government must actively collaborate to deliver investment – at speed – to meet this challenge.  

Furthermore, new talent should not automatically gravitate towards established hi-tech hubs. Government policy initiatives will play a critical role in relocating skill development so that expertise-related salaries will act as socio-economic drivers to revitalise towns like Dover where there are significant clusters of multiple deprivation.  

In summary, collaboration with government will reinforce the strategically vital trade corridor to Europe whilst simultaneously accelerating the skills essential to both Dover’s socio-economic regeneration and the UK’s technological future. 

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