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Towards autonomous inland shipping



Septentrio bestows Ecochallenge Award on Leuven University teamSeptentrio, a designer and manufacturer of GNSS solutions, has awarded the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) Ecochallenge team — the winners of the Galileo Masters (Flanders Challenge) of the European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC) — with an AsteRx-m UAS receiver for its proposal to use high-precision high-reliability Galileo receivers to modernize inland waterway transport by introducing autonomous technology for the vessels.

(Septentrio Awards KUL Ecochallenge Team as Winners of the Special Septentrio Galileo Masters (Flanders Challenge)

2nd place European Satellite Navigation Competition 2016, Flanders Challange


Second International Symposium on Autonomous Inland Shipping, 2017.

First International Symposium on Autonomous Inland Shipping, 2016.



Unmanned Cargo Ship Conference 2017 

European Electric& Hybrid Vehicle Congress (EEVC 2017)

Socio-economical motivation

Autonomous barges for inland waterways would solve a multitude of socio-economic problems. On the one hand, the inland shipping sector suffers from an outflow of shippers and a lack of investment in new vessels resulting in the use of old-fashioned barge designs. On the other hand, a sustainable solution needs to be found for the ever increasing logistical transport sector e.g. Europe expects a 50% growth of cargo in EU ports by 2030. This outflow of labour and inflow of transportable goods, calls for a disruptive innovation like autonomous inland vessels, called autonomous barges.

Integrated in the worldwide multi-modal transport network, barges serve as last mile vessels. Nevertheless, in this landscape, they currently suffer from the competition with cheaper and more flexible road and rail transport. In Belgium only 6% of the transported cargo expressed in tonnes/km goes over water. However, if we take into account that one-thirdof the cargo transport cost with barges exists of staff costs and another third of fuel costs, unmanned barges will make the inland waterways competitive again. Autonomous barges won't need a shipper on board and, because of this fact, will be able to sail slower in order to save fuel. This paradigm shift will not only dramatically reduce the transportation cost, it will also make the inland waterway transport even greener.


Work packages 

The research will be split into 6 Work Packages WPs of which the two latter, namely WP5 Verification and Validation and WP6 Dissemination, will run parallel with the others throughout the whole research. The figure below shows the main interactions between the five first work packages which are divided based on different activities. In doing so, each work package will generate modular, generic, scientific added value. Of course, the true value and power of the research lies in the merge of all those work packages into holistic validations, which shall be done in WP5.

Interactions between work packages

The research starts with the development of both the manoeuvring model, WP1, and motion control, WP2, of the barge in unrestricted waters (see figure 1). The motion control algorithms will need the Deliverable 1.1: Manoeuvring model barge in unrestricted water, in order to be fully tailored for the barge. Afterwards the identification of the barge's specific parameters, WP3, will enable the validation of both WP1 and WP2 in WP5. This time flow is indicated in grey and black on figure 1. The blue time flow indicates the parallel research on the modelling of the inland disturbances, WP4. This will be kept in mind at the start of the research and will mainly get traction parallel with WP3. Consequently, after the validation of the model and control in unrestricted water, the effects of the inland disturbances can be added and validated.

Due to this decoupling of the modelling work packages, WP1 and WP4, the effect of the critical path diminishes. Moreover, this structure generates more pivot points where the research can be revised or adjusted if necessary. Likewise, WP1 and WP2 are the foundations of this research and the key topics during the first two years. Due to their modularity, they will thrive the further exploitation of the research by keeping in mind industry readiness and demand.


Timing and Deliverables

The chart below shows the global timing: time flow in dark blue indicates the main research area(s) during that quarter, the flow in light blue depicts complementary research. As visible, the first two years will focus on the Manoeuvring Model, WP1, and the Motion Control, WP2, as they will serve as the mere basis of this research. The parameter identification, WP3, starts after 18 months and, when completed, the first validation of WP5 can be done. After around two years, the modelling of the inland disturbances, WP4, will start,  and when finished, it will allow the second validation of WP5. The last year will focus on the dissemination, WP6.

Deliverable 1.1: Manoeuvring model barge in unrestricted water
Deliverable 2.1: Guidance Navigation Control (GNC) motion controller
Deliverable 3.1: Scale model hydrodynamic parameters
Deliverable 4.1: Extended manoeuvring model barge in canal
Deliverable 4.2: Extended manoeuvring model barge in river
Deliverable 5.1: Manoeuvring model unrestricted water with GNC module
Deliverable 5.2: Manoeuvring model inland disturbances with GNC module
Deliverable 6.1: Blueprints sensors, actuators and business model preliminaries
Deliverable 6.2: Doctoral thesis and publications