Rural Matters LLP, who were appointed to manage the Network, approached HIE to explore options for addressing the logistical challenges raised by members. Brought on board to provide expertise on the latest data driven solutions, The Data Lab was able to connect the Network with the Smart Data Technologies team at Robert Gordon University, as well as its commercial spin-out Celerum Ltd, who were already engaged in applying AI to large scale logistics planning.
Together, the parties designed a technical feasibility project funded under the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal to investigate the question:
'Can food and drink logistics in the Highlands benefit from an open logistics software platform with AI capability to match food producers’ demand to move goods to logistics providers’ capacity to supply?'
The three-month pilot project operated in two areas: Inverness and the Moray Firth, and the Isle of Skye. From their contacts across 190 member companies, the Network recruited 24 participants representing both food and drink producers and logistics companies operating in the pilot areas. The Network worked with the participants to gather information on their volume and frequency of logistics requirements as well as any seasonal fluctuations and special requirements.
Once this information was anonymised to protect the commercial sensitivity of all participants, it was sent to the University team to inform the AI modelling they hoped would identify more efficient logistics solutions.
Their approach is based on nature-inspired computing, which learns lessons from instances in the natural world where evolution has overcome inefficiency. The decision making processes which govern the flight paths of bees returning to their hives, for example, or the routes of ants collecting food, have evolved to eliminate inefficiency, and provide valuable lessons for human logistics planning. Using these principles to inform their algorithms, the team tested a variety of logistical strategies using the anonymised Network data.