The automatic identification system (AIS) is a tracking system for ships, originally developed for collision avoidance. The data is automatically transmitted every few seconds over very high frequency (VHF) radios from approximately 100,000 vessels worldwide. Allowing for real-time geo-tracking and identification for equipped vessels, the AIS data promises to map and describe certain marine human activities. AIS data provides a big data source of unrivaled quality above and beyond its original application for collision avoidance.

The number of possible applications for this data is enormous, and we believe that it could also be used to support official statistics in monitoring the social and economic impact of COVID-19 and to assist the world in its fight against climate change. To quickly utilize the data to its full potential, we need a surge of creative researchers to come up with equally creative ways to use it!

For this reason, the United Nations Statistics Division, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and UN Global Pulse are jointly, in collaboration with MarineTraffic and consultation with AIS Task Team members, organizing a remote participation Hackathon from 3-6 September — right after the Conference on Big Data for Official Statistics and the winning team will get the chance to present their work at the UN World Data Forum in Bern, Switzerland.

More information about the Hackathon can be found in the concept note for the event. For more information on AIS data, here is a list of case studies.


UN World Data Forum

The lead of the winning team will receive funding to attend the UN World Data Forum in Bern, Switzerland in 2021 in order to present their work and to receive certificates and rewards. In addition, selected teams would be invited to make presentation in the context of the Virtual World Data Forum in October 2020.


Winners of the best all-student team will conduct a teleconference with a high level ranking UN official to discuss their results.


Apart from the main prizes, every participant will receive a certificate acknowledging their participation and thanking them for their contribution. The certificate will mention the rank of the top 3 teams and the top 3 all-student teams.


  • 2 Aug

    Deadline for applications
  • 9 Aug

    Abstract deadline for registered teams
  • 14 Aug

    Selected participants are notified

    Participants will receive a small excerpt of the AIS data to familiarize themselves with the format and sheets that describe the data and how it could be used.

  • 31 Aug

    2 Sep

    6th International Conference on Big Data for Official Statistics

    Virtual, Conference Website

  • 3 Sep

    6 Sep

    AIS Big Data Hackathon

    Access to Global Platform (or making datasets downloadable)

  • 7 Sep

    Presentation of Results
  • 8 Sep

    Winning Team notified

    Preparation to make presentation in UN Data Forum