Belgium’s Port of Antwerp has commenced the trial of a fully automatic sounding boat named Echodrone.

Designed to measure the water depth anywhere in the port to ensure safe passage and mooring for ships, Echodrone is a prototype vessel that will supplement the port’s existing operational sounding boat called Echo.

Compared to Echo, Echodrone is smaller in size and can operate on its own without anyone on-board, even during peak traffic hours.

Echodrone also features a cloud-based technology, which has been developed jointly by the Antwerp Port Authority and Belgium-based maritime technology firm dotOcean.

dotOcean co-founder Koen Geirnaert said: “This technology is based on assembling detailed information in the Cloud.

“Data from all sorts of devices throughout the port is made available over the internet and then selectively compiled and translated into useful information by algorithms in the cloud.

“The Echodrone is designed to navigate fully independently using this verified data, unlike the previous generation of automatic vessels that had to rely on their own on-board sensors.

“This makes the Echodrone one of the first of a completely new generation of robots.”

Echodrone is expected to be used to inspect and maintain the maritime infrastructure at the port of Antwerp, including the beds of the docks.

“Echodrone is expected to be used to inspect and maintain the maritime infrastructure at the port of Antwerp.”

In future, the vessel will be developed to conduct other types of measurements such as environmental surveys and inspecting quay walls.

Antwerp Port Authority Nautical Access senior technical manager Wim Defevere said: “The Echodrone is currently undergoing extensive trials.

“Once these have been completed, it will be based in the Deurganck dock where it will be fully operational alongside the Echo to measure the water depth of the available berths at the busiest of the tidal quays for handling containers.”

Antwerp Port Authority is primarily involved in the day-to-day operation of the port, including managing and maintaining the docks, bridges, locks, quay walls, and land.