Last Wednesday, an autonomous flying drone flew above the port of Antwerp for the first time. The goal is to install a whole network of self-managing drones in the future. They should not only ensure the security of the port, but also assist with emergencies and inspections. The drone can independently detect and track people or trucks by means of AI.

Large area

The port of Antwerp takes up a considerable area: no less than 120 square kilometers, about half of Ameland. Ordinary surveillance cameras are therefore not enough to keep an eye on the entire terrain. That is why the idea arose a few years ago to use drones to monitor the port area.

Already in 2016, drones flew around above the port area for the first time. At that time, it was about Defense drones, controlled by flesh-and-blood pilots. But technology has not stopped and in 2021 it is the turn of self-flying drones, which do their job outside the sight of the operators. Last Wednesday, the first flight was carried out with the new system.

Drone Box Network

The pilot flight marks the start of the construction of a whole network of drone boxes, which are placed in strategic locations in the port area. “The goal is to test the various applications in a realistic and complex environment (industrial installations, wind turbines, high voltage, etc.) so that they can support the Harbor Safety & Security (HSS) department in the future,” said Erwin Verstraelen, innovation manager at Port of Antwerp.

In principle, the drone always travels a fixed route. But it is also possible to send the drone to a specific coordinate, for example, to provide assistance from the air during an emergency. At the end of each flight, the drone will automatically return to the docking station, to be recharged for the next flight.


The YACOB type drones and their docking stations are supplied by DroneMatrix. This company has had to go through a whole process to get approval in order to deploy the automatically flying drones. The drones are controlled remotely via a web-based cloud solution. The drones use AI to be able to track people, objects or trucks.

In the course of 2021, various tests with other autonomous systems will follow, in preparation for an operational network of autonomous drones ready to be deployed in 2022.

Port of the future

Verstraelen: “Thanks to a network of drones, we can better monitor what is happening in the port. Through our innovation platform Port of the Future and collaboration with partners, such as DroneMatrix, we can accelerate technological innovation. Not only for drones, but also for promising evolutions in autonomous shipping, smart cameras and sensors. This is how we work towards a safe, efficient and smart port: the port of the future.”