Operators of Hamburg’s port last year took the lead among major European transport and logistics hubs working to integrate autonomous drones and robotic vehicles into their daily activities. Now thye are seeking to extend that through a new partnership with German UAV services company HHLA Sky – a move expected to further expand use of automated aerial, water, and land vehicles across the vast site.

The deal between the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) and HHLA Sky was sealed this month, and aims to ratchet up the enormous facility’s pace of incorporating autonomous drones as part of its everyday operational environment. HPA has said the full integration of HHLA Sky’s navigation, traffic management, and digital logistics flow and monitoring services will accelerate its effort to transform the port – Europe’s largest in terms of volume – into an innovative and intelligent transport hub through the effective use of automated craft.

That is central to HPA’s objective of creating a U-Space model that rivals will have to try to match. Central to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) concept for managing increasing drone use by all kinds of government, business, and service providers, U-Spaces will frame and orchestrate UAV and autonomous robotic operations within wider environments of vehicle and human activity. The EASA has given EU members until the start of next year to begin implementing future U-Space functions.

HPA easily beat that deadline by beginning its project last July. Creation and testing of the port’s U-Space was underwritten by a $1.2 million grant from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, which will draw off that experience to support establishment of similar drone airspaces, navigation systems, and infrastructure around the country. 

HPA eagerly accepted the challenge of becoming the national – and possibly global – leader in U-Space development and operation. Now it says it wants to extend its lead with HHLA Sky by exploring new logistical, traffic, and task performance capabilities through increased deployment of autonomous drones around the port 

“In the event of storm surges, accidents, or other unforeseeable disruptions, flying, floating or self-driving robots can be on-site considerably faster and provide high-resolution videos and pictures for an exact overview of the situation,” says HPA executive board chair Jens Meier, by way of example. “The time saved can be decisive in an emergency. Furthermore, they make the maintenance and expansion of the port infrastructure significantly more efficient – for example, in the case of facilities that are difficult, time-consuming, or dangerous to reach.”

Under their new partnership, HPA will entrust monitoring, coordination, and management of all autonomous drone and robotic vehicles operating in the port to HHLA Sky’s over-arching control platform. 

“Our solution will display and control all associated processes in a safe and understandable manner,” says Matthias Gronstedt, managing director of HHLA Sky. “Furthermore, the HPA is able to collect very different kinds of data using mobile teleoperated sensors. Analyzing it helps us use resources optimally.”