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Belgian company Seafar pioneers barge automation technology

November 18, 2020  - By
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An autonomous freight barge moves through a lock. The barge is equipped with Septentrio GNSS positioning via Seafar navigation. (Photo: Seafar)

An autonomous freight barge moves through a lock. The barge is equipped with Septentrio GNSS positioning via Seafar navigation. (Photo: Seafar)

Seafar has integrated Septentrio’s AsteRx-U dual-antenna, multi-frequency, multi-constellation receivers into its autonomous vessels to provide sub-meter positioning for navigation and control.

AsteRx-U’s robust enclosure is equipped for harsh outdoor marine environments. The dual-antenna set-up provides precise heading information along with reliable positioning. A captain in a Remote Operating Center monitors several unmanned ships simultaneously, and can take over navigation control if the need arises.

The maritime industry is witnessing an emerging trend of navigation automation both in the open sea as well as inland. Lloyds Register predicts that the marine industry will undergo a shift toward full autonomy for seafaring as well as inland ships by 2035, a timeline similar to that of the automotive industry.

And GNSS positioning plays a key role. Unlike open sea transport, inland barges navigate narrow waterways, passing through locks, under bridges and near urban areas. The distance between ships can be down to 1 meter in a tight lock. Septentrio’s AsteRx-U provides the accurate and continuous positioning that enables ships to navigate in ports, stay on their predetermined routes and dock at harbors. The receiver also provides Septentrio’s Advanced Interference Mitigation (AIM+) to ensure reliable positioning in the face of jamming or spoofing.

Currently, only 6% of inland transport travels on waterways, though water transport is more energy efficient and safer than rail and road. Optimized route and fuel efficiency, increased cargo space and savings on human resources are ways automation helps inland barge owners increase their margins and gain a competitive edge.

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