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5G-Pilot Zeevaart

This project harnesses 5G technology for unmanned navigation on inland waterways, focusing on semi-autonomous inland navigation with support through 5G connectivity. Howest is exploring the possibilities of a 360° camera and VR applications on the boat & will conduct field tests.

Following successful test runs in 2018 on the River Yser, the partner Seafar aims to further develop this concept. A major challenge in our rural region is ensuring stable network connectivity to guarantee the safety of remote control. 5G connectivity can strengthen the three necessary elements (coverage, bandwidth, and latency). Semi-autonomous navigation has the potential to stimulate and streamline freight transport on waterways. Especially in the Westhoek, there are small waterways suitable for semi-autonomous inland navigation.

The goal of this research is the development of a reliable communication system between the control center and the automated ship. Howest is responsible for developing and validating the VR immersive experience of, for, and with the captain. It explores the possibilities of a 360-degree camera and VR applications on the boat. Finally, Howest conducts real-life tests to ensure proper functioning and examines, among other things, the effects of a VR headset on the captain.

The use of autonomous vessels offers numerous future possibilities for (small-scale) inland navigation: lower operational costs, higher safety, reduced risk of human errors, lower fuel costs, maintenance optimization, addressing labor shortages (shortage of captains and crew), etc. Thanks to the project, inland navigation in the Westhoek, and by extension, Flanders, can once again become a significant economic player.