Small, flexible inland waterway vessels that automatically communicate with each other, calculate their routes themselves and can load and unload their cargo independently - without a captain. This is how experts see the future of networked freight transport on the water. The automation of inland waterway vessels is one way of exploiting the great, hitherto untapped potential of this means of transport.
As a first step, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), together with partners from industry and government, is planning to set up a digital test field for inland waterway vessels on the Spree-Oder waterway between the ports of Königs Wusterhausen and Eisenhüttenstadt (Germany) in the state of Brandenburg. Construction is to begin in 2020. "There we will have the opportunity to test individual basic technologies that will further automate the inland navigation vessel step by step," says Dr. Ralf Ziebold from the DLR Institute for Communication and Navigation in Neustrelitz. Together with his team, Ziebold has already developed assistance systems for inland waterway vessels.