The Port of Antwerp has introduced an autonomous sounding boat, known as the Echodrone, to assist with depth measurements that guarantee safe passage for commercial ships.
One of the port authority’s responsibilities is inspection and maintenance of onsite maritime infrastructure, including dock facilities. This work has traditionally been completed by humans aboard a sounding vessel called Echo, which carries out regular soundings of the water depths at the berths.
The port has now partnered with Brugge-based maritime technology firm dotOcean to design and deploy the Echodrone, which is smaller and more manoeuvrable than its larger counterpart. This means that the fully-autonomous boat is able to operate in areas of heavy shipping traffic where Echo is unable to reach.
"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 using this verified data, rather than relying on onboard sensors. Once the vessel has completed its trial period it will be based at Antwerp’s
Deurganck dock. Port officials predict that the drone will be able to carry out other measurements, including environmental surveys and quay inspections, in the future.