The University of Antwerp (UAntwerp) and Port of Antwerp have completed a series of shipboard tests to evaluate the potential use of 3D sonar sensors for situational awareness on autonomous ships.
Inspired by the natural ability of bats to use sound waves to ‘see’ the world around them, researchers within the eRTIS (embedded Real Time Imaging Sonar) project developed a 3D sonar sensor with 32 waterproof microphones capable of analysing reflected sound waves to create a real time picture of a vessel’s surroundings.
“In order to achieve fully autonomous navigation, constant monitoring of the ship’s surroundings is absolutely crucial,” explains Prof Jan Steckel, from UAntwerp’s Faculty of Applied Engineering.
“Cameras can be used, of course, but when visibility is poor – due to dust, water sprays, mud, smoke or fog – they don’t work properly.”
“We drew our inspiration from the way bats use echolocation. They emit sound waves, and when those waves hit objects, the bats hear the echoes of these collisions, allowing them to avoid obstacles flawlessly.”
The technology was successfully tested on the Tuimelaar, one of the Port of Antwerp’s test vessels, at the end of 2020. A follow-up ‘3D Sonar and Lidar for Vessel Monitoring’ project will be carried out in 2021, as part of the Smart Docking Innovation Challenge.
“In 2019, over 42% of all goods entered or left the port of Antwerp via inland waterways,” said Port of Antwerp alderman Annick De Ridder.
“In other words, inland shipping is crucial if we want to ensure the accessibility of our city and our port. By focusing on technology such as unmanned navigation, we want to further increase both the market share and the competitiveness of inland shipping.”