Drones port at Antwerp

As drone technology continues to make strides in various industrial applications, drone patrols have been introduced in the port area of the Belgian city of Antwerp.

Launched on May 5, the operation is a result of a partnership between port operator, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, DroneMatrix, SkeyDrone and Proximus.

It will see six autonomous drones perform daily flights in the Antwerp port area, a world first that will make an important contribution to overall security of the complex port environment.

The operation is called the D-Hive Drone-in-a-Box Network.

“Given the huge surface area of the port, drones provide us with leverage when it comes to carrying out our core tasks as a port authority,” said Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO of Port of Antwerp-Bruges.

“This drone network will play a crucial role in the further roll-out of the port’s digital twin, a digital copy based on thousands of pieces of data from a network of cameras, sensors and drone, giving a real-time picture of what is happening at the port every second.

“This first takes us an important step further in developing a fully digital nervous system that will help us manage our port more efficiently and make traffic even safer and smoother.”

​The Antwerp port area is spread on more than 120km²; the drones will provide extra pairs of eyes to help coordinate smooth, safe and sustainable operations in this complex environment, according the port authority.

The drones will offer a unique perspective from the air and enable the port authorities to manage, inspect and supervise a large area, quickly and effectively. Flight missions will include berth management, monitoring, infrastructure inspections, oil spill and floating waste detection, and to support security partners during incidents.

“We are proud that customers like the Port of Antwerp-Bruges select DroneMatrix as the drone technology expert and end-to-end partner for the implementation of this large-scale drone network within the Port of Antwerp,” said Lander Vanwelkenhuyzen CEO DroneMatrix, whose company joined the consortium as the drone partner.

“This proves that DroneMatrix has built up top expertise over the years with a strong strategic vision around fully in-house developed hardware and software products and services.

“Furthermore, DroneMatrix can rely on a strong ecosystem of Belgian partners to deliver this drones-as-a-service (DaaS) application in the most complex and demanding infrastructures. Weare excited to prove and further commercialise the strong added value of our unmanned aerial robotics in the coming period.”

In a world first for this kind of operation in a complex industrial environment, there will also be eighteen daily BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) drone flights, which will be remotely controlled from a command centre in the heart of the port.  

The operational permit was built around a new BVLOS framework (known as pre-Uspace airspace), built by Skeydrone and approved by the BCAA (Belgian Civil Aviation Authority) and EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency), as a appropriate and safe framework for BVLOS drone flights.

“A seaport is probably one of the most difficult areas to fly drones,” said Hendrik-Jan Van Der Gucht, Managing Director at SkeyDrone.

“Especially when flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). SkeyDrone therefore developed the “BVLOS framework” that ensured that these D-Hive drones can be deployed daily in a safe and scalable way. ​ This framework now serves as the template for the future U-space airspace, for which again the Port of Antwerp Bruges will pioneer.”

The ​Port of Antwerp-Bruges says has harboured the vision of building a network of autonomous drones since 2019, because of the important role they could play in helping to create the port of the future. Several trials were then taken in addition to the authority taking part in the SAFIR project to investigate the feasibility of drones at the port.

Meanwhile, Proximus will chip in with network availability.

 “We are proud to be contributing to the general safety and operational efficiency in one of Belgium’s most important economic growth engines,” the telecommunications company’s Enterprise Market Lead of Proximus, Anne-Sophie Lotgering said.

“This newly launched network of autonomous drones will help the port authority in its day-to-day activities, for example by facilitating the detection of oil spills and floating debris or by supporting the coordination of calamity and incident response operations.

“It will also benefit the many companies that are active in and around the Antwerp port area in a broader sense. This project shows the potential of our state-of-the-art 5G network, combined with a wide range of software-based services, to boost innovation in our country.”

Annick De Ridder, Vice-Mayor of the City of Antwerp and President of the board of directors of Port of Antwerp-Bruges added; “Thanks to this drone network, we will have a more accurate sense of what is going on at the port as we, along with our innovative partners, work towards the achievement of a safe, efficient and smart port – the port of the future.”


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