By: Binyamin Zirman  | 

The Google of the Ocean

While ships have been sailing the oceans for millennia, until very recently it was literally impossible to know a vessel’s location once it sailed past the range of the radar screen, about 30 miles off shores. The $1 trillion global business of shipping raw materials and finished goods by rail, ship, or plane has lagged most of the modern economy in both transparency and speed, largely skipping the digital overhaul most other industries have undergone. The last “wild west” frontier, one that holds over 90 percent of world trade, has this huge problem. Once cargo is on a ship, it enters a zone with little information about the path ships are taking or the stops they are making. Only in recent years have the largest ships begun regularly transmitting location data, and even now, a ship may stop its transmission and “go dark” at any time.

The combination of ship transmissions via Automatic Identification System (AIS) and other data sources has created a new information era in maritime data. This massive data has had two very significant unintended consequences: First, the amount of data collected on ships each day, hundreds of millions of data points, amount to maritime’s version of “big data,” a common catch-phrase in the business world today. But second, it has become a corrupted picture with the data becoming increasingly unreliable and intentionally manipulated. Then Windward came along in 2010 with the premise that  “Your decisions are only as good as the data you rely on.” Windward was founded by Ami Daniel and Matan Peled in 2010, and are headquartered in Tel Aviv. They’ve raised a total of $15.8M in two rounds of funding, with their most recent round consisting of $10.8M in April 2015. According to a Wall Street Journal profile, they are valued at over $100 million.

Windward brings data sciences, powered by a deep understanding of the shipping domain, to the oceans. Windward built the world’s first maritime data platform, the Windward Mind, making the data accessible and actionable across verticals. They aggregate and analyze all maritime data and provide an accurate and actionable picture of what’s happening at sea. The Windward Mind takes the data and creates a unique Vessel Story on each ship worldwide, a complete history of each ship’s activities over time. This allows them to provide customers with unprecedented visibility into what’s at stake for them at sea, whether they are tracking single ships or global commodity, trade or shipping patterns. This empowers them with data and insights to solve problems, make decisions, and monetize their interest at sea. There is an ocean of maritime data, and Windward is making sense of that ocean.

The Windward Mind is a powerful marriage of two very different but highly complementary perspectives: On one side their Big Data uses cutting edge analytical algorithms that fuse, analyze, and integrate the data, cyber validate the information, and correct any hacking and manipulation. These data analytics have been combined with deep shipping expertise which is an old-school discipline that gives the company key insights into powering their algorithms including shipping behavior and regional and global shipping patterns.

To make sense of hundreds of millions of fragmented and unstructured data points coming in from each ship, Windward’s computer scientists have built artificial-intelligence systems relying on natural language processing and other techniques to identify curious or important patterns of behavior. The result is maps which might show ships meeting mid-ocean to transfer cargo, or crossing in and out of a country’s territorial waters in patterns that can be associated with illegal fishing or other behavior.

The more obvious uses of Windward include surveillance of pirated or terrorist ships, tracking their movement and cargo as they travel. However, the uses of Windward can also include things such as analyzing international trade to create investment ideas. Whereas today financial analysts might rely on a country’s self-reported—and possibly fraudulent—financial data to forecast their investments, with Windward, they can see actual movement of goods from country to country and can adjust their forecasts accordingly. Windward’s technology has excited not only the traditional venture capital firms Horizon Ventures and Aleph who have participated in Windward’s funding, but also General David Petraeus (Retired) of the U.S. Army, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi (Retired) of the IDF, and the author of the well-known book Startup Nation, Dan Senor; unique individuals who have all invested in the company because they see Windward’s potential usage in the aforementioned diverse areas.