UK-based Drone Delivery Group said by testing autonomous technologies, ports could gain significant benefits in terms of safe and efficient port operations
Autonomous harbour vessels could transport pilots effectively to ships and remain on standby for emergency response, unmanned vessels be used to transport cargo on inland waterways in the future, while autonomous navigation technology could help tug masters assist ships into berths. In the air and subsea, drones could be used for mapping, surveying and environmental monitoring.
“Autonomous systems across all environments (surface, underwater, ground and air) have a huge role to play at ports,” said Drone Delivery Group chairman Robert Garbett. He is also founder of Drone Major Group.
“Introducing drones at UK ports in a safe, scalable ‘test and development area’ model can bring significant benefits in terms of safety and efficiency of port operations and profitability,” said Mr Garbett.
“Those UK ports that lead the way in the adoption of drone technology through the creation of development areas have the potential to become world-leaders.”
Mr Garbett thinks these technologies will help ports thrive after the UK leaves the European Union (post-Brexit) and once the current global coronavirus pandemic is under control. “At no other time in history has there been a better time to enable the integration of port traffic with inland and air transportation, as in post-pandemic/Brexit Britain,” he said.
Other applications are connecting multimodal transport links, environmental, security and customs enforcement, search and rescue operations, and maintaining and repairing both shipping and port assets.
Drone Major Group director of maritime strategy James Fanshawe said autonomous vehicles could also assist operations in associated waterways. “Using drones will make a real difference to the whole business of providing a truly integrated logistics chain,” said Mr Fanshawe.
“Drone technologies will have a massive impact on meeting the sustainability development goals, notably for all forms of emissions and noise,” he added. “Above all else, drone technologies will significantly enhance safety and security in and around ports.”
Drone Delivery Group brings together more than 300 companies and organisations involved in all aspects of the drone industry.
It published a report during Q3 2020, The commercialisation of the UK air drone industry, calling for development of new testing grounds for this technology.
One of the key testing ground projects currently being developed seeks to explore the potential impact of drone use on port operations and the role of drones in coastal waters.
In France, drones have been deployed in the strait of Pas-de-Calais for surveillance and environmental monitoring. Drones are flown out from the Regional Surveillance and Rescue Operational Centre Gris-Nez to detect vessels flouting IMO rules on fuel sulphur content in fuel and emissions.
Port authorities and vessel owners have tested autonomous navigation on tugs to improve handling of ships and transiting between towing jobs. The latest trials have been completed in Singapore and Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Autonomous navigation technologies and trials will be discussed in depth during Riviera’s Smart Tug Operations virtual conference on 1 December 2020.