Port of Antwerp deploys autonomous drone for testing

The Port of Antwerp reports that it is set to deploy its first autonomous drone to test various inspection and control use cases before potentially scaling up to a larger network of autonomous drones to support core tasks in the future.

The Port of Antwerp covers more than 120 km² and the new drone, developed in collaboration with DroneMatrix, will offer authorities a unique opportunity to manage, inspect and supervise a large area quickly and safely.

For the initial trial, the drone will depart from a fixed operating base near Kieldrecht Lock and follow a fixed route through the port, though the unit can also be routed to other areas on demand, for example in emergencies where a situation overview is required.

The drone operates completely independently and charges itself through an intelligent docking station that is centrally managed from a web platform, the port says.

The various use cases to be tested include infrastructure inspection, surveillance and monitoring, incident management, berth management and oil spill or drift waste detection, allowing the technology to prove itself in a realistic complex environment.

Several tests with other autonomous systems are planned over the course of 2021, in preparation for the deployment of an operational network of autonomous drones in 2022. Ultimately, the port’s ambition is to use the network of autonomous drones to provide a ‘live feed’ of various port activities.

“Drones are a lever in carrying out our core tasks as port authority, given the port’s huge surface area. Thanks to a network of drones, we can keep a closer eye on what’s happening in the port,” said Erwin Verstraelen, Chief Digital & Innovation Officer, Port of Antwerp.

“Through our ‘Port of the Future’ innovation platform and cooperation with partners, such as DroneMatrix, we can accelerate technological innovation. Not just for drones, but also for promising evolutions in autonomous shipping, smart cameras and sensors. As such, we are working towards a safe, efficient and smart port: the port of the future.”

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