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The first semi-autonomous ship on the Flemish inland waterways

16/02/2021

On February 8, 2021, the first semi-autonomous vessel will sail on the route between the port of Zeebrugge and the port of Antwerp. This project can completely change shipping on the Flemish inland waterways.

The pilot project is hoisting the sails

Citymesh and Seafar are working together to make semi-autonomous shipping a reality for inland vessels such as the ship Deseo. Under the project name Shore Supported Navigation (SSN), they are investigating whether an inland vessel can make the semi-autonomous journey from the port of Zeebrugge to that of Antwerp. For example, this project can demonstrate that a ship, supported by a control centre ashore, can navigate with a limited crew. De Blauwe Cluster and the Agency Innovation and Entrepreneurship support this project.

Semi-autonomous routine shipping

With this technology, less crew has to be deployed for routine navigation on this route. For example, a captain will monitor the ship remotely from a central control centre and communicate with a captain on board. The combination of this technology and the cooperation of the captains ensures a degree of safety equivalent to conventional sailing.

(read more below the video)

Seafar has developed the technology to be able to sail autonomously. For that speed to run smoothly, flawless connectivity is required. Citymesh therefore provides the reliable and stable communication link between the ship and the control centre. They do this using a hybrid WiFi network, private 5G and a public 4G network.

Mitch De Geest, CEO of Citymesh, explains: “As a B2B operator we provide connectivity based on different technologies. The stable, mission-critical connection is mainly done via our private 4G and 5G networks, with the public networks as redundancy. In this way, the semi-autonomous ship remains connected everywhere on Flemish inland waters.”

And what about autonomous navigation?

Flanders has expressed the ambition to be a pioneer in innovations on the Flemish waterway. This project fits perfectly into that framework. Inland waterway freight transport faces a number of challenges. For example, there is increasing congestion on the Flemish inland waters. In addition, there is a growing crew problem: it is increasingly difficult to find motivated personnel for routine shipping. SSN clears the track for completely autonomous navigation, something that can solve both problems. Thanks to a combination of a captain who makes adjustments remotely and artificial intelligence onboard, you need less personnel and sailing is more efficient. Autonomous shipping thus offers new perspectives for the future.

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