Automation in inland navigation

In the past years, the transport sector has seen a trend towards automation. This applies not only to road or rail transportation but also to inland navigation. Several stages have to be completed before the still distant aim of fully autonomous navigation will be achieved. Intermediate goals, such as relieving the skipper when driving in regular forward motion or during different manoeuvring situations have already been achieved.

With its ship handling simulator for inland navigation vessels, the BAW participated in the SciPPPer project funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK). The method developed during this research project allows lock manoeuvres to be completed fully automatically. The burden on skippers during this tricky manoeuvre is relieved as an automated lock manoeuvre does not only make it easier and safer for skippers to enter and exit locks but will also help to save time.

The BAW also participates in the FernBin project funded by the BMWK which is aimed at developing reliable and safe remote-controlled navigation of inland waterway vessels. Remote-controlled navigation is an important intermediate step on the path towards fully automated navigation on inland waterways. Skippers that control ships from remote must have considerably more data and information to master the task than if they were on board. These technologies are meant to strengthen the efficiency and competitiveness of inland shipping, in particular in multimodal transport chains.

Under the BAW research project ‘Inland Shipping Automation’, the BAW is building a virtual test field for studying innovative developments in inland navigation using its ship handling simulator. The self-steering of several virtual ships moving in a defined area is to be tested using machine learning methods. A traffic simulation model developed in cooperation with the Technical University of Dresden will be applied in the project. Further steps in the course of the research will deal with an analysis of hybrid traffic situations on inland waterways involving ships that are driven autonomously and vessels navigated by humans.