Rijkswaterstaat wants automatic flying drones over waterways
Rijkswaterstaat wants to place boxes with automatically flying drones at strategic locations along the waterways in the Netherlands. These drones could be activated at the push of a button from the Nijmegen Traffic Post if something happened on the water. They would also send images of the incident to the air traffic controllers.
The service has been practicing for two years in an area above the Waal with drones that "know" where they need to go. When the air traffic controller presses a button, the box opens and the drone takes off.
"It's getting better and better and that's why we now want to expand the test area. We learn the most from real experiences with the drones: do they fly in the right direction, crash into a high building on the way, fall down due to a gust of wind, do they bump into birds –– all questions we want answers to. And if things continue to go well, such automatic drones can become a permanent part of our work," the spokesperson said.
According to Rijkswaterstaat, an automatic drone could, for example, be equipped with a life jacket: "Of vital importance if someone gets into trouble on the water." The drone could also quickly provide images of pollution on the water, so that emergency services could take measures such as closing a harbor, limiting the consequential damage.
A drone with a sensor could determine whether hazardous substances have been released into the water after a fire or explosion. And via a drone with a speaker, people enjoying water activities could be called to order.
Just like other emergency services, Rijkswaterstaat already uses regular drones. But automatically-controlled aircraft are not yet in use. Strict legal rules apply to this, partly because the privacy of people on and near the water is important.
"But we don't use images to enforce, we only care about technical information about an incident," said the spokesperson. She pointed out that a lot of images are made over land by fixed cameras, which are important in the event of an accident. However, this does not yet exist above the water.
Rijkswaterstaat will simulate a fire on a ship on the Waal near Nijmegen on Monday to show what an automatic drone could do. The service also wanted to show this exercise to Minister Mark Harbers (Infrastructure and Water Management), because his ministry has to decide on the future deployment of the aircraft. However, the minister canceled due to a coronavirus infection.
Reporting by ANP