Drone trials at UK port

British telecommunications network provider BT has announced the successful completion of an automated drone trial at the Port of Southampton in partnership with Associated British Ports (ABP) and RoboK.

The trial demonstrated a drone flying over the port’s vehicle inventory lot, with images captured and fed into an artificial intelligence (AI) powered system to track and analyse vehicle occupancy levels.

Its also forms part of ABP’s ambitions to harness the latest technologies to improve operational efficiency, accuracy and safety for its ports and customers. For ABP, implementing drone automation with AI provides a breadth of opportunities to exploit data and provide accurate management of their sites, asset control and enhanced security.

Through its long-standing innovation partnership with ABP, BT has used drone technology to trial a fully automated process to identify, track and analyse the number of vehicles across the port at any given time. This is key for ABP’s business to allow for accurate billing, better management of operational costs and insight-led decision making for the port’s management team.

As part of the trial, BT partnered with RoboK, a Cambridge based start-up specialising in efficient 3D computer vision. RoboK’s use of innovative AI technology was able to detect, track and count vehicles in real time, captured from the drone footage.

“Drone technology can deliver vastly improved services to businesses and the public and even more so when dovetailed with automation capability,” said Dave Pankhurst, Head of Drones Solutions, BT’s Enterprise unit. “Our trial demonstrates how drone technology – underpinned by BT’s network – can lead to meaningful innovation to transform business operations. For ABP, it can fast track new levels of digital transformation across their UK ports – saving costs, boosting efficiency and improving safety.”

The pilot sees BT and ABP working together to understand the potential use cases for “drone-in-a-box” (DIAB) solutions in port environments. Unlike traditional drones, DIAB systems deploy autonomously from a box that also functions as a landing pad and charging base.

After carrying out their instructions, these drones return to their “base” to charge and upload information. DIAB solutions can better manage port inventory, address port-wide health and safety monitoring, optimise site management, support search and rescue missions, and improve maritime control.

Harm van Weezel, Chief Information Officer at ABP said; “Technology is an incredible enabler to streamline processes, help digitise our ports, and ultimately provide better services to our customers. ABP’s collaboration with BT – whether it is the Internet of Things (IoT), drone technology or AI – continues to push the boundaries for new and exciting innovations and how they can play a vital role for our ports in the future.”

The Port of Southampton tests is an extension of a strategic partnership with ABP. In July this year, BT and ABP deployed next generation IoT and sensor technology at the Port of Ipswich to speed up the movement and processing of cargo goods, digitising the port’s logistics and operations processes.

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