Revolution in shipping: On the Rhine, an autonomous ferry is tested

Revolution in shipping: On the Rhine, an autonomous ferry is tested

The Rhine ferry Horst between Oestrich-Winkel and Ingelheim not only connects two federal states with each other, but also carries annually 600,000 people and 300,000 vehicles. So far, this is done in the classic way: The ship is controlled by a trained ferry driver, who is also familiar with the difficulties of the local river. Thus, the island Winkeler Aue ensures an unusually strong current at high water levels. If the level drops, on the other hand, sand banks come to light, which must be cleverly bypassed. Of course, the ferry does not have the river on its own: there are around 300 ships passing by every day, which usually have priority. Exactly these challenges have now ensured that the ferry becomes a very special test object.

Image: Rhine ferry Maul GmbH

The ferry gets a completely new control software

Some companies have teamed up with RWTH Aachen University to test the autonomous ferry ride on the Rhine. In the next few years, the previously used ship will therefore be brought up to date technologically. So there is new drive and control technology from the company JM Voith. In addition, intelligent software is installed to calculate the optimal route for each tour. The prerequisite for this is the correct determination of one's own position. On the one hand, data from satellite navigation is used for this purpose. At the same time, there will also be landmarks on the shore so that the software does not lose its orientation. In order to detect obstacles within the river, radar data are also evaluated. Ideally, the fastest and best route can be calculated before the journey begins.

The young professionals in the industry can be solved

The heads behind the project are thus striving for the very big solution. No technical aids are to be tested and implemented for the driver, but the goal is to completely replace this with a control software. This would also be in the spirit of the ferry operator, Rheinfähre Maul GmbH. Because this has to contend with significant junior worries, because hardly any young people are enthusiastic about the work of the ferry driver. In addition, the company could still benefit in a second way: At least in theory decreases by the use of algorithms of fuel consumption. By the year 2022, it will now be tested on the Rhine whether the technology is actually practicable and where adjustments or improvements still need to be made.


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