The Antwerp Port Authority is currently testing a fully autonomous sounding boat to carry out measurements of the water depth within the port. The vessel, named the Echodrone, was developed by Port of Antwerp in partnership with the Brugge-based maritime technology company dotOcean.
This is one of the many initiatives underaken by the Antwerp Port Authority in the field of new digital technologies. We already wrote earlier about the innovation network called Capital of Things, which is being developed in close co-operation with the City of Antwerp and the University of Antwerp and includes the idea of developing a smart port.
On the innovative boat, the Port Authority explains that one of its responsibilities is inspection and maintenance of the maritime infrastructure, including the beds of the docks. This implies regular measurements of the water depths at berths and at other points in order to ensure safe passage and mooring for ships and to plan the necessary maintenance dredging work. Up to now this was done by the Echo sounding boat. The new vessel – the Echodrone – is smaller than the Echo and is fully autonomous, operating on its own without anyone on board. This makes it more flexible and able to even operate in heavy shipping traffic where the Echo would be unable to go.
Wim Defevere, Senior technical manager for nautical access of the Antwerp Port Authority, says: “The Echodrone is currently undergoing extensive trials. Once these have been completed it will be based in the Deurganck dock where it will be fully operational alongside the Echo to measure the water depth of the available berths at the busiest of the tidal quays for handling containers.”
The unique technology for guiding and operating the Echodrone was developed in collaboration with dotOcean.
“This technology is based on assembling detailed information in the cloud,” explains dotOcean co-founder Koen Geirnaert. “Data from all sorts of devices throughout the port is made available over the internet and then selectively compiled and translated into useful information by algorithms in the cloud. The Echodrone is designed to navigate fully independently using this verified data, unlike the previous generation of automatic vessels that had to rely on their own onboard sensors. This makes the Echodrone one of the first of a completely new generation of robots.”
Piet Opstaele, Innovation Enablement Manager at Antwerp Port Authority, adds: “With the help of the Echodrone it will be possible in future to carry out other types of measurements, such as environmental surveys, inspecting quay walls and so on. This technology is a real breakthrough for us in our quest for smart solutions for the port of the future.”
The Port Authority informs that the Echodrone will be demonstrated at the SuperNova Tech Fair on September 27-30 in Antwerp, when the innovative autonomous boat can be seen at work from 10 am to sunset every day in the Bonaparte Dock.