Smart Ships

Research: 2017-2019

Sensors on board ships make these smarter and form the basis for autonomous sailing. The data generated by the sensors also offer many applications for other parties.


Based on data from sensors on board, smart ships can determine their route and speed and sail autonomously. Additionally, sensors can provide other data as well, such as the depth of rivers (done by Covadem). The additional data can be relevant to different parties.

This study looked at the state of affairs of the introduction of smart ships, their business impact on various activities and the new opportunities that smart ships offer for all parties in the marine ecosystem.

Different phases can be distinguished in the development towards autonomous vessels:

1. Ships are equipped with sensors. The captain and the personnel are supported with the data supplied by the sensors.

2. Ships that sail with a reduced amount of staff. Operations on the ship can be carried out by fewer people.

3. Ships that sail completely autonomously.

What is needed to make these steps? And what will be the impact of this development? These are the questions that have been addressed during the research.


  • With Covadem on inland vessels, data on the depth of the rivers is obtained. This means fewer inspections are required and navigation systems can show the depth of waterways in real time.
  • The more data smart ships generate, the more efficient they can sail and maintenance can be done more efficiently (and more preventively). Also, follow-up activities such as the departure of the ship and the opening of bridges can be planned more accurately.
  • The further the introduction progresses, the more concrete insight we get into challenges that might emerge from autonomous shipping. For example, the interaction between smart and non-smart ships and cyber-security.

Business opportunities

  • Reduction of staff yields
    o. lower personnel costs.
    o. better utilization of the assets – increasing operating time because rest periods for personnel are no longer required.
    o. increased safety – less chance of accidents by personnel and with personnel.
  • Data harvesting allows the shipping to be more efficient and thus, leads to a reduction in fuel usage. This will save costs. Also, if fossil fuels are still being used, reduction of usage will benefit the environment.


Erasmus University Rotterdam, TU Delft, TNO, Port of Rotterdam Authority, Rijkswaterstaat, Covadem, CGI

This project is part of the Smart Logistics roadmap. For more information about this project or this roadmap, please contact project developer Anique Kuijpers.