Introduction to the project

Autonomous inland waterway vessel – simulation and demonstration of automated driving in inland waterway transport

The AutoBin project is a joint project between the Development Center for Ship Technology and Transport Systems e.V. and the University of Duisburg-Essen. It is supported by the European Union within the framework of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

For regions with high economic power such as North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), a competitive and sustainable transport system is an indispensable location factor. In NRW, inland waterway transport plays a key role due to its system advantages of efficiency, safety and environmental compatibility: NRW accounts for around half of the volume of around 223 million t/a that it transports in Germany. At the same time, inland shipping is facing major challenges:

  • The already existing shortage of skilled workers will become even more acute due to demographic change.
  • Competing modes of transport, especially trucks, are rapidly driving the development towards automated driving and reducing (personnel) costs.
  • The freight structure effect demands small, flexibly deployable ships, which, however, cannot be operated profitably with the current manning levels.

The AutoBin joint project is attempting to meet these challenges with the help of automated driving. The crew is relieved of control tasks and can thus be reduced. At the same time, automated driving can help prevent accidents due to human error and increase the level of safety. This can sustainably strengthen the competitiveness of inland navigation.

In the project, an inland vessel provided by the associated partner HGK Dry Bulk Shipping Lux S.à.r.l will be equipped with the necessary sensor and actuator technology. An artificial intelligence-based control system will be developed in a simulator through machine learning to the point where it is able to safely steer the inland vessel from a starting point to a destination point, taking into account the traffic situation and traffic rules. After learning in the simulator, the control system is tested and demonstrated with the equipped inland vessel on a test field selected in advance.