3D sonar sensors enable unmanned sailing

3D sonar sensors enable unmanned sailing

UAntwerp and Port of Antwerp testing innovative technology for autonomous shipping

Automated navigation is the future of inland shipping. It may sound futuristic, but innovative research carried out by UAntwerp and the Port of Antwerp is bringing us one step closer to this dream. The key: 3D sonar sensors, inspired by the way bats see the world.

'In 2019, over 42% of all goods entered or left the port of Antwerp via inland waterways', says port 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.'

'Unfortunately, inland shipping is not exactly a sexy sector', says Svetlana Samsonova. As liaison officer, she coordinates many different joint research projects carried out by the University of Antwerp and the Port of Antwerp. 'Attracting young talent to this sector is not an easy feat. That's why we focus so strongly on innovation. Unmanned vessels can lead to substantial cost savings, as well as provide an answer to our increasing traffic congestion problems and the rising costs of road transport. Smart vessels definitely have a part to play in the multimodal transport approach that the Port of Antwerp wants to help develop further.'

Impervious to dust and fog

Enter Prof. Jan Steckel. At CoSys-Lab, a research group in UAntwerp's Faculty of Applied Engineering, he develops advanced sensor systems that can withstand harsh conditions. 'In order to achieve fully autonomous navigation, constant monitoring of the ship's surroundings is absolutely crucial', Steckel explains. '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.'

Sonar sensors, however, remain fully functional under such circumstances. They can provide a reliable picture of the ship's surroundings at a low cost. Steckel: '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.'

3D sonar sensor - Photo UAntwerpen
3D sonar sensor - Photo UAntwerpen

Reflected sound waves

CoSys-Lab is a world leader in innovative sonar technology, which has many possible uses. For instance, the researchers are also looking into applications in the mining industry, where trucks equipped with these sensors could drive automatically from point A to point B.

For the project with the Port of Antwerp, the researchers developed a 3D sonar sensor with 32 sophisticated waterproof microphones. The project is called eRTIS, which stands for 'embedded Real Time Imaging Sonar'. Steckel: 'The information is transmitted in real time, because if there are any delays, the ship could crash into something. The 'Imaging Sonar' part refers to reflected sound waves hitting the sensors to create a picture of the surroundings.'

In the last weeks of 2020, the technology was successfully tested on the Tuimelaar, one of the Port of Antwerp's test vessels. In 2021, there will be a follow-up project: as part of the Smart Docking Innovation Challenge, the Port of Antwerp has given the green light to Prof. Jan Steckel's 3D Sonar and Lidar for Vessel Monitoring project.

 

Contact

Prof. Jan Steckel - UAntwerpen
[email protected]
​+32 497 86 38 95
​www.uantwerpen.be/cosys-lab/

 

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About Port of Antwerp-Bruges

With an overall throughput of 289 million tonnes per year, Port of Antwerp-Bruges is a critical hub in worldwide trade and industry. The port is a crucial link for the handling of containers, breakbulk and for the throughput of vehicles. Port of Antwerp-Bruges is home to 1,400 companies and accommodates the largest integrated chemical cluster in Europe. The port provides, directly and indirectly, a total of around 164,000 jobs and generates an added value of 21 billion euros.
 
The ambition for Port of Antwerp-Bruges is clear - to become the world's first port that reconciles economy, people and climate. As well as growing in a sustainable way, the Port also aims to focus on its unique position as a logistics, maritime and industrial centre and to take the lead in the transition to a circular and low-carbon economy. Together with the port community, customers and other partners, Port of Antwerp-Bruges is actively seeking innovative solutions for a sustainable future. High on the agenda is its responsibility for the environment and the surrounding society. 

The port sites of Antwerp and Zeebrugge are operated by the Antwerp-Bruges Port Authority, a limited liability company of public law with the City of Antwerp and the City of Bruges as its shareholders. The port employs 1,800 people. Vice-Mayor of Antwerp Annick De Ridder is President of the Board of Directors, the Mayor of Bruges Dirk De fauw is the Vice-President. Jacques Vandermeiren is CEO and President of the Executive Committee, which is responsible for the port’s day-to-day management. 

www.portofantwerpbruges.com

The telephone number +32 492 15 41 39 is only for press inquiries. For other questions you can mail to [email protected]

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