High Precision Ship Positioning with Drones

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#Seas & Oceans , #UAV , #STEREO

Published on 28 October 2021

The Port of Antwerp is one of the largest ports of Europe. A massive number of ships arrives every day to load and unload as quickly as possible. No time to waste! All these ships have to be allocated an area to load or unload their cargo as quickly as possible. But this is easier said than done! Up till now, port authorities need to rely on spaces that are already allocated and the available AIS (Automatic Identification System) data such as unique identification, position and length information which unfortunately isn’t always as reliable.

That’s why VITO Remote Sensing teamed up with the Port of Antwerp and DroneMatrix to see how they can use remote sensing to determine a ship’s position with high precision in order to help port operators to improve planning and avoid ships being unable to moor at the assigned berth and losing precious time. Discover how drone-based remote sensing allows us to successfully detect, position and dimension ships at the quay walls.

Optimizing the Ship Mooring Policy

In an international port like the ‘Port of Antwerp’ an efficient and smoothly functioning mooring policy is crucial. Handling approximately 195 ships each day, the port authority has to be able to assign free mooring spaces to incoming ships keeping in mind many different aspects such as the ships already present, the dimensions of the incoming ships, cargos that needs to be loaded or unloaded, etc.

But what if the already allocated spaces aren’t used properly or aren’t up-to-date? And what if the AIS (Automatic Identification System) data is missing or incorrect? Unfortunately, there is often an offset between the imposed and actual mooring places due to wrong GPS offset information or incomplete ship dimensions. In the worst case this can lead to incorrect planning and incoming ships that are unable to moor at the requested berth, loosing precious time.


A view of one of the drone flights to collect data from the 'Vrasendok' quay

The ‘Port of Antwerp’ therefore challenged us to find an innovative drone-based remote sensing solution to optimize the ship mooring policy. Our answer was twofold. We used drone-based inspection techniques in combination with a photogrammetric point cloud image processing solution to meet these criteria:

  • Accuracy: the data must have a precision of 50 cm or better
  • Near real time: the results must be available within one hour
  • Workable procedure: the solution must have minimal operational constraints

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