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Port of Antwerp uses drones to spot debris

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Picture of Meenal Datar

Meenal Datar

Membership specialist
Minister De Sutter monitors drone images

The Port of Antwerp in Belgium has hosted Belgian deputy prime minister and minister of civil service, public enterprises, telecommunications and postal services Petra De Sutter to demonstrate to her the use of drones in detecting floating debris within the port.

Debris such as plastics, wood, cardboard, organic material and mooring lines pollutes the water, poses a risk to ships and negatively affects biodiversity. Up to 50 tonnes of such debris is removed from the port each year, but with an area of 120 km2 to monitor, finding the debris can be difficult. The Port of Antwerp has now developed a ‘machine vision’ application which used drone images to build up a map of the area and shows the location of floating debris. The port authority will soon deploy drones to fly over the entire port area several times a day, to enable it to locate and clean up floating debris more quickly.

The plan is to develop a network of autonomous drones to provide a live feed of all port activities, with tasks such as inspecting infrastructure, surveillance and monitoring, incident management, berth management and the detection of oil spills, as well as looking for floating debris. Such drones will help to support the Harbour Safety & Security (HSS) unit and its security partners. The 5G network will be used to stream images.

Other drones have already been trialled in the port. For example, in 2021, the fire department used a combination of colour and infrared images from a 5G live stream of drone footage to monitor a fire, gaining a better idea of the location and how to tackle it more effectively.

‘I see a glimpse of the future here in the port of Antwerp. Drones that keep the port clean and safe. It is a good example of how digitalisation, a clean environment and the fight against climate change can go hand in hand. I am really looking forward to the further added value that 5G can offer in terms of ecological applications. With the help of 5G, a drone can transmit very large amounts of data without any problem. This is not only good for the environment. Also for safety. The port is close to the city. If there is a fire, the thermal cameras can immediately help the fire brigade,’ says De Sutter.

The Port of Antwerp’s innovation enablement manager Piet Opstaele says: ‘A clean and safe port is an absolute priority for Port of Antwerp. The use of drones for floating debris detection is a fine example of how innovation and digitisation can contribute to this.’

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