Let’s talk about Remotely Piloted Aircrafts (RPAs) or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)! These unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, have already been incorporated into our society for their flawless ability to take exceptional videos and photographs. Nevertheless, global transport and logistics companies are looking to take advantage of their functionalities and the shipping industry is not lagging behind.
Within the contributions that an RPA can already offer to transport operations we have:
- Inspections of physical structures and patrolling of security rounds;
- Routine inspections for maintenance of buoys, pipes, docks, breakwater cranes, roof-ships and other structures that are conventionally difficult to access;
- Stock measurement to calculate (bulk) volumetric mass inventory;
- Detection of irregular situations, leaks or abnormalities through (thermal and gas) sensors, as supplemental emergency support without the need to expose people to the affected areas;
- Measurement and control of environmental aspects, detection of contamination and tracking and monitoring those responsible for the environmental breaches;
- Mapping and surveying;
- Generating audio-visual records of inspection for the authorities or for historical archives;
- Among others.
The truth is that RPAs have many positive functions to bring to the port community. It is necessary to recognise that not all functions of these high tech devices are positive, and therefore an airspace overflight control would need to be established and regulated. Ports like Rotterdam, Hamburg or Antwerp have already begun regulating the use of RPAs, and allow for their use in certain operations or for inspections under previously established regulations or approvals. The port of Amsterdam has recently tested the Marine Anti Drone Systems (M.A.D.S). This system gives the port authority the possibility to try to control and protect the airspace in order to avoid violations of private security, terrorist attacks and fly-hacking, among others. It is vital, when taking advantage of these devices, to take security and other potentially negative repercussions under consideration.
One of the most interesting commercial cases of the use of RPAs in port areas cases has to do with the service of the company Willensem in Singapore. The company has been able to obtain test authorisation for an “Agency by Air” with which they intend to supply ships with small spare parts, documents, supplies or even consumables for 3D printers. This system will replace shipments by boat in order to reduce economic costs, lower pollution, and ensure faster and risk-free trans-shipment-delivery.
Similarly Airbotics, a company of Israeli origin, has incorporated the devides into a wide range of services. Some of those are applied to the maritime sector where they control traffic and monitoring in port, and undertake supervision on environmental and health issues, inspection systems and inventory tracking. Together they are supporting the construction of the port project in Haifa through mapping and inspection.
In Chile, APM Terminal works with drones for general supervision operations and risk detention. Their devices have a loudspeaker built into the RPAs, allowing the operator to give directions to truck drivers or other people on the ground.
As a final example we could mention the Balearic Islands Port Authority (APB), which has initiated a pilot programme to control and manage the public port domain by using drones in the port of Alcúdia to supervise port operations and environmental control. Currently they perform a weekly flight operated by a specialized company that provides a video and 750 orthophotos.
When it comes to RPAs and UASs, the possibilities for the shipping industry are endless. Companies have only touched on the surface of the possible applications that could be implemented to maximise productivity of the ports, enforce sustainable regulations within the port borders, and improve overall security. As with all new technologies, however, this comes with additional costs and ethical and security considerations. Ports would need to ensure a risk-free airspace for the drone operations to be successful, and if surveillance is involved, that all parties entering or leaving the port are informed of it. The ports we have listed have already taken a first step towards this incredibly exciting future – and we do not need to wait long for the rest of the world to showcase their applications.
For more information you can go to:
- Vanessa Bexiga, Operations Manager (Escola Europea – Intermodal Transport)