Experimenting with autonomous shipping on TU Delft Campus
On Monday, 18 March, the Researchlab Autonomous Shipping (RAS) opened at TU Delft's The Green Village . This new research lab offers a natural outdoor space for autonomous shipping experiments and will bring together everyone involved in the development of autonomous shipping.
“The Researchlab Autonomous Shipping (RAS) brings us a step closer to reality: it will mark a move from formulae, simulation models and controlled indoor experiments to the outside world – with all the uncertainties that involves. We will start by scale-testing our group of autonomous vessels before quickly shifting to a more complex environment with other waterway transport”, explains Rudy Negenborn (Professor of Multi-Machine Operations & Logistics at TU Delft). In addition to the environment at The Green Village, options for also including the inland port of De Nieuwe Haven in the research are also being explored. The RAS will be combined with the existing Researchlab Automated Driving Delft (RADD), in order to actively link autonomous driving and shipping.
“At the lab, we will be able to demonstrate at scale the very latest technology for large-scale transport issues. That is much more inspiring than sitting around a table at a meeting,” says Negenborn. His work at the lab involves developing a fleet of modular autonomous vessels that can transport small numbers of containers flexibly within the port. Negenborn: “There is still plenty of space on the water, especially in comparison to the roads. Worldwide demand for transport is increasing all the time. Although the port of Rotterdam is capable of handling the world’s largest container ships, processing the thousands of containers that they transport causes congestion on the water, roads and railways. We can resolve some of the problems by more efficient use of the water through the development of autonomous vessels. Expectations are also high for far-reaching autonomy in larger ships. More efficient sailing profiles can increase sustainability of transport by water, for example, or even resolve an impending shortage of crew.”
In order to accelerate the application of smart shipping in the Netherlands, the entire supply chain needs to be effectively organised, from science through to the market. This means that, in the years ahead, there will be an important focus on formulating a joint research agenda by government, science and the business community with a view to enabling new technologies to reach the market quickly. This will make it possible to take advantage of the opportunities these developments present to society In terms of sustainable and efficient water-based transport, safety & security, digitisation, economic growth, accessibility and employment. In the new testing and learning environment, the RAS partners will set to work on concrete themes, such as autonomous passing through bridges and locks, autonomous berthing and leaving berth, the use of multiple (autonomous and non-autonomous) vessels, platooning and the influence on CO2 reduction. The initiators of the RAS include TU Delft, the Province of Zuid-Holland, the Metropolitan Region of Rotterdam/The Hague (MRDH) and the municipality of Delft.
The RAS means another field lab is opening on the TU Delft Campus. This is part of a wider trend in which knowledge institutions, government bodies and businesses are working much closer together on the development of new technological applications: with each other, at a single location. TU Delft is encouraging this new type of innovation by providing space for various field labs (focusing on areas such as robotics, quantum, mobility) and the establishment of innovative companies on campus.