The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has placed a renewed focus on the role of logistics in global supply chains, with economies across the world exploring how best to keep imports and exports flowing at a time of unprecedented change. However, in rupturing the flow of global trade, the pandemic has served as a catalyst for the uptake of new technologies as public and private sector alike seek to protect their essential industries. In Bahrain, the King Fahd Causeway – a 25-kilometre bridge connecting the island directly to Saudi Arabia – has been the focus of much of this development work at a time when the usual daily flow of thousands of passengers has slowed to a halt due to COVID-19 precautions.
An essential link
The King Fahd Causeway first opened in 1986, and today it is one of the busiest land border crossings in the Middle East with an estimated 390 million passengers having crossed since the opening of the bridge. In spite of the global spread of coronavirus, the commercial shipping of necessary goods across this essential economic link has continued. Yet, due to the closure of car lanes, the pandemic has afforded an essential opportunity to install and test new technology which will facilitate an ever more digitised era of logistics.
Artificial intelligence in action
To speed up the flow of commercial traffic across the King Fahd Causeway, it was recently announced that Bahrain Customs had installed high-tech scanners to automate data collection and allow shipment inspections to take place before reaching the border. Powered by AI, these machines have the capacity to screen 120 trucks per hour and can store the collected information online. This has greatly increased both the speed and capacity for processing as demonstrated by a 15 per cent growth in trade between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in the first quarter of this year.
But the data-driven renovation of the King Fahd Causeway is not the only high-tech solution taking shape during the COVID-19 lockdown. A “SmartHub” logistics warehouse has also been launched in Bahrain, serving the GCC market with pharmaceuticals and food. The SmartHub will utilise emerging technologies to ensure the speedy and efficient distribution of much-needed foods and medicines across the entire GCC, drastically reducing the time required for paperwork, administration and bureaucracy.
A digital nerve centre
This hub is Bahrain’s homegrown solution – a digital logistics nerve centre that will help reconnect the broken links between businesses in a post-pandemic world. It will integrate blockchain, smart-tracking systems, advanced AI, and IoT. It combines government support and Fintech for clearance and cross-border payments as well as linking suppliers and logistics providers. It will be the first facility of its kind in the Middle East to integrate a track and trace system on a blockchain platform with smart contracts for customs clearances and fee payments. Solutions like cloud, AI, robotics and IoT are also being utilised, developed and trialled as a way to streamline customs processes, from payments to pre-clearance approvals.
In this way, the global logistics industry is turning to digitalisation for survival – with both the King Fahd Causeway and SmartHub logistics centre being the perfect examples of industries evolving for a new way of doing business. These projects demonstrate the kind of innovative agility that has so far proven successful in mitigating the economic impact of one of the most significant public health crises in living memory. Moreover, when the virus is long gone, the new technologies will remain – powering a new era of digitisation.