Rijkswaterstaat commissioned a new test area for drones along the Waal between Tiel and Nijmegen on Monday. In this area, Rijkswaterstaat and various emergency services under the name Drone2Go will carry out tests with automatic flying drones. The goal is to get a faster overview of incidents on the waterway. At a later stage, there should be more starting and landing spots for drones.


The practice area at de Waal is the first Drone2Go location to be put into use. In this area, Rijkswaterstaat will collaborate with the police, fire brigade, ILT aerosensing and the NVWA. The intention is that the drone images will be available live to the operators in a traffic post on the Waal. The mobile traffic controllers on the water, the police and the fire brigade can also see the images on their own screens, in order to be able to take action directly. For example, in case of collisions, discharges, drowning, fire on board a ship, lost cargo or oil pollution, a drone quickly gives real-time overview images from the air.

Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen (IenW) is enthusiastic about the Drone2Go project: “Drones take our dangerous work off hands and get to places where people can’t go. They make visible what we can’t see and prove their added value for specific work time and time again. That is why we need to learn to use them properly and safely in an area where that is really possible. Drone2Go helps us move from innovation to practice.”

Autonomous drones

In the coming months, there will be plenty of testing with autonomous flying drones. These can take off independently from a box, without the need for a pilot to be present. The drones can travel pre-programmed routes or fly directly to a specific coordinate in the event of an incident, so that the crisis organization can have an immediate picture. In this way, follow-up damage from incidents on the water can be limited and it leads to less nuisance to shipping, lower environmental damage and cost savings.

Rijkswaterstaat ultimately wants to go to multiple locations in Drone2Go establish land fixed landing and starting points for autonomous drones. In the end, the fire department also wants drones to be standby in various places in the country to take action during emergencies.

‘Exercises aresorely needed’

The ultimately needed hardware and software is developed by various Dutch companies. In doing so, we work through sprints. At the beginning of such a sprint, the companies are assigned a challenging case, which then has to be developed into a testable whole in four weeks.

That is not easy, as it turned out during two test flights that were performed live after the opening ceremony. A test with a drone that should have swerved independently before an obstacle ended in a crash, after the aircraft remained indecisive in the air for some time. During a second demonstration, it failed to let the drone go a pre-programmed route, due to technical problems.

Drone2Go test leader Marc Sandelowsky: “Recognizing and evading the tests related to obstacles have shown that these types of practice areas are desperately needed to be able to test extensively in lifelike conditions. Because there was still a lot going wrong. And that’s exactly what we want. A day not failed a day is not learned. And we need to learn.”

Fortunately, another test was successful again. Sandelowsky: “All three challenged companies showed that they could analyze an extensive image file of tree rows photographed by drones in minutes to recognize the less vital trees.”

(cover photo: Aeret)