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Port of Southampton hosts drone-in-a-box trial

Port of Southampton hosts drone-in-a-box trial

28 September 2021 | Melanie Mingas

The Port of Southampton, located on the south coast of the UK, has hosted another connectivity milestone after BT used it as a testbed for automated drone and AI technology.

Back in April, Verizon said it was working with Associated British Ports (ABP) to make it the first British mainland port with a private 5G network. Now, BT has worked with ABP and RoboK to understand the potential use cases for “drone-in-a-box” (DIAB) solutions in port environments.

Dave Pankhurst, head of drones solutions, BT’s Enterprise unit said: “Drone technology can deliver vastly improved services to businesses and the public and even more so when dovetailed with automation capability. Our trial demonstrates how drone technology - underpinned by BT’s network - can lead to meaningful innovation to transform business operations. For ABP, it can fast track new levels of digital transformation across its UK ports – saving costs, boosting efficiency and improving safety.”

Unlike traditional drones, DIAB systems deploy autonomously from a box that also functions as a landing pad and charging base. After carrying out their instructions, these drones return to their “base” to charge and upload information. BT said DIAB solutions can better manage port inventory, address port-wide health and safety monitoring, optimise site management, support search and rescue missions, and improve maritime control.

Port of Southampton hosts drone-in-a-box trial

Using drone technology, BT trialled a fully automated process to identify, track and analyse the number of vehicles across the port at any given time. Such insight allows ABP to better manage the port and its billing.

As part of the trial, BT enlisted RoboK, a Cambridge based start-up specialising in efficient 3D computer vision. RoboK’s use of AI was able to detect, track and count vehicles in real time, captured from the drone footage.

“Technology is an incredible enabler to streamline processes, help digitise our ports, and ultimately provide better services to our customers. ABP’s collaboration with BT – whether it is the Internet of Things (IoT), drone technology or AI - continues to push the boundaries for new and exciting innovations and how they can play a vital role for our ports in the future,” said Harm van Weezel, chief information officer at ABP.

It isn't BT's first port project. This latest trial is an extension of a strategic partnership with ABP. In July 2021, the two deployed next generation IoT and sensor technology at the Port of Ipswich to speed up the movement and processing of cargo goods, digitising the port’s logistics and operations processes.

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