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How is an automated barge able to safely pass through a lock when no persons are present on the barge?


During the lock passage, big water flows are created. Therefore the current barges use mooring lines to ensure safe passage and have to shut off their engines to limit the impact on infrastructure and barges. But how can an automated, crewless vessel pass through a lock?  

The current technological solutions (extra information below) are not scalable and De Vlaamse Waterweg is now challenging you to come up with a solution: 

  • that guarantees a safe passage of the barge itself 
  • that guarantees a safe passage of the other barges
  • for which the extra cost on the infrastructure is limited (due to extra investments or extra maintenance) 

Different scenarios can be identified, enlisted below in increasing order of difficulty: 

  • Scenario 1: The vessel passes a lock alone 
  • Scenario 2: The vessel passes a lock together with another manned barge 
  • Scenario 3: The vessel passes a lock together with another unmanned barge
  • Scenario 4: The vessel passes a lock together with pleasure crafts 

Existing technologies:

Although, there are already different solutions, these are installed on the quays which would lead to a high costs on the authority side due to infrastructure changes. Which raises questions around scalability knowing Flanders has over 100 locks. Note: the current solutions are mostly maritime. 

Important to mention is that some variations are being developed so the solution could be implemented on the barge instead, which makes sure the infrastructure investment is limited. However, this could lead to significant investments for the barge operator, which then raises the question if it is still possible to create a positive business case. 

Some of these technological solutions can be found below: