Carnegie Mellon University

CH Robinson Team

Keep On Truckin’

Logistics company C.H. Robinson tapped Carnegie Mellon students to develop a model that predicts event-related transportation delays

A holiday celebration, natural disaster or police incident can affect a truck’s schedule as much as a snowstorm. International logistics company C.H. Robinson wanted to know if it was possible to predict — and more importantly, plan for — such delays. The company turned to CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences for help.

C.H. Robinson’s  data analysts already use models to predict weather delays. The Dietrich College statistics and data science student team — senior Chi Fang and juniors Frank Kovacs, Maria Rodriguez and Yudi Jin — was assigned to the project and referenced those as its starting point. The students took shipping data from December 2016 to February 2018 and paired it with a self-designed database of socioeconomic events in the United States during the same period, building a predictive model for shipping delays.

“It was a pretty eye-opening project,” Kovacs explained. “We were given a lot of freedom with what we could do with the data. We were allowed to try different strategies. It became an exercise in justifying our decisions with the client’s needs in mind. It was a nice experience to have!”

Dietrich College students have a history of working on research projects for corporations, but this is the first time a company has sponsored an undergraduate student project to address a specific business or customer need. Ian Allison, a senior sales executive in C.H. Robinson’s Pittsburgh office, reached out to CMU’s Institutional Partnerships Office to see how the company, which has a history of partnering with higher education on research projects, could work with the university. That inquiry led to the modeling project.

 “I didn’t appreciate the depth of A.I. knowledge and education that’s going on at CMU before. The passion, the energy and the core processes of these students was unbridled out of the box,” said Brett Cooksey, director of technology, digitalization strategy, at C.H. Robinson. “These students have given us a window into this kind of data, and opened up the possibility of using the model with other products and services that we offer.”

The Dietrich College student team presented “Predicting Delays in Freight Transportation through Socioeconomic Events” at the CMU Meeting of the Minds in May 2018, an annual campus-wide undergraduate research symposium. Their project won first place in the event’s statistics competition, beating more than 80 other students.

Cooksey and his team were impressed with the results of the students’ research, which they had a chance to see firsthand at Meeting of the Minds, and are looking forward to further collaboration with CMU.

“It’s harder inside of corporations to innovate,” he said. “Having an external partner to really look at opportunities and ways to bring technologies or new thoughts to bear is invaluable.”