New sounding vessel in Antwerp runs itself


The port of Antwerp’s new Echodrone can perform water depth measurements all on its own, relaying critical information for port traffic

‘Smarter and more efficient’

The port of Antwerp has launched a prototype for a fully autonomous sounding boat that can perform vital water measurements without any on-board staff.

The water depth measurements performed by sounding boats are critical to ensuring safe passage for ships. They allow port staff to determine the water depth at docking stations and to schedule dredging works.

“As a world-class player, we aim to be a leader in developing innovative port concepts,” said Piet Opstaele, innovation enablement manager at Antwerp Port Authority. “The port is laying the foundations for the ‘smart port’, the port of the future that uses digital technologies to make both maritime and land-based operations smarter, smoother and more efficient.”

The new Echodrone vessel (pictured) will be used alongside Echo, the vessel that currently handles sounding measurements. Because Echodrone is smaller than Echo and because it is fully autonomous, it can easily be deployed at short notice, making it ideal for sounding operations during peak port times.

Navigation via data

Echodrone’s cloud-based technology was developed by the Antwerp Port Authority in partnership with dotOcean, a Bruges-based maritime technology company. The technology culls online data from various devices used across the port, which are subsequently sorted, translated and compiled into useful information by algorithms.

“The Echodrone was designed to completely navigate on these verified data,” said dotOcean co-founder Koen Geirnaert, “in contrast to the first generation of autonomous vessels, which navigated by relying on their sensors.”

After an extensive testing phase, the Echodrone will move to the Deurganck lock, where it will be used to independently sound the vacant docking stations at busy tidal container quays.

Photo courtesy port of Antwerp

Port of Antwerp

The port of Antwerp is Europe’s second-largest port and one of the world’s most important ports for container traffic.
Going green - The port’s first-ever sustainability report won it the Award for Best Belgian Sustainability Report.
Size - The port takes up more space than the actual city of Antwerp.
Roots - Historians have found evidence for the port’s existence dating back to the 12th century.

barges entering the port daily


companies in the greater port area


tonnes of freight handled in 2012