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Drones provide a unique perspective from the air, enabling critical installations authorities to manage, inspect and control a large area in a fast and safe manner. For example, drones will play an increasing role in port operations. 

The Port of Antwerp in Belgium has been expanding its testing of autonomous drones to monitor activity and maintain safety across the port complex. For the first time, an autonomous drone was deployed following a fixed route above the port testing applications for inspection and control around the port. The plan is to deploy a network of autonomous drones in 2022.

The current test flights are exploring the use of drones in various situations including infrastructure inspection, surveillance and monitoring, incident management, berth management, and oil spill or drift detection. 

The objective is to test the systems in a realistic and complex environment with obstacles ranging from windmills to high voltage lines. 

The drone works completely independently and charges itself utilizing an intelligent docking station that is centrally managed from a web platform. It can fly on request, for example in emergencies where an overview of the situation is important. 

The drone tests are part of an initiative to develop Antwerp as a smart port. Through its “Port of the Future” innovation platform, Antwerp is looking to accelerate technological innovation including the development of autonomous shipping, smart cameras, and sensors.

Previously, as part of the Port of Antwerp’s participation in the SAFIR project, extensive tests were conducted to investigate the feasibility of manned and unmanned drones in the port. At the end of last year, the Port of Antwerp and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) teamed up for a project involving a pilot-controlled drone, according to maritime-executive.com.