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Supply Chain 4 min read

Underwater drone technology can enhance port maintenance

Underwater drone technology can enhance port maintenance

GPS-enabled drones can do anything from delivering medicine to identifying garbage on the beach. Now, drones are helping the logistics industry maintain port facilities, from beneath the surface of the water.

Supply chains involve a complex series of transportation methods including truck, plane, ship, and/or rail in a range of combinations. At some point, they all culminate at a central hub, such as an inland port or logistics marina.

From there, millions of crates of goods are unloaded and loaded, packed and distributed, while thousands of empty shipping containers are sent back to their original destination. Being such an integral component of the supply chain, keeping daily port operations and infrastructure proficient, and safe is crucial to supply chain flow and the prevention of port congestion.

Traditional methods of asset and infrastructure inspection can be hazardous to humans and time-consuming, both in terms of planning and application. There are also concerns about the accuracy of data collection. Underwater drones can help port managers overcome these and other challenges.

In fact, the Sohar Port in Oman and the Freeport of Riga have recently turned to GPS-enabled, autonomous underwater drones to assist them in their daily procedures.

Underwater drones from Blueye Robotics are designed to carry out port inspections beneath the surface to ensure that moorings and other constructions are intact. Image credit: Blueye Robotics

Underwater drones can perform inspections and scheduled observations, and they can identify and even help repair defects in areas unsafe for human technicians, like berths and breakwaters.

At the Sohar Port in Oman, Senior Asset Management Engineer Sufyan Al Mamari, told about their recent investment in underwater drones: “We rely on precise measurements and cutting-edge equipment to assist tenants... to become more efficient, and vessels in the port to load and unload goods to maintain effective supply chains. This extends to the maintenance of the port.

“We use drones to inspect different types of marine infrastructure including quay wall structures, jetties and breakwater without the risks associated with the job. These drones are durable enough for multiple deployments, which allows operators to perform inspections in enclosed spaces."

In this quick video, you get a glimpse of how safety managers are using underwater drones to monitor freighters. Video credit: Blueye Robotics

According to Mamari, drones improve security, speed, efficacy, and response times. In addition, underwater drones can collect data from obscure areas, supporting managers in decision-making and accident prevention. They also help eliminate downtime and prolong the use of port assets, extending equipment budgets.

Underwater drones: how do they work?

An underwater drone and its camera are designed to work in harsh, low-light environments, featuring highly controlled buoyancy and other innovative features:
  • Onboard GPS enables safety-related features, tracking, geofencing and precise data collection.
  • Deep-sea tolerant motors, cameras, sensors and transmitters mean drones can reach depths of 150 meters while automatically generating analysis reports
  • Hand-held controls allow users to guide the drone to a location, and specify camera angles and the orientation of the vehicle to get an accurate visual, in real-time
  • Remote control or tether control supports increased user safety and access
  • High-resolution screens connected to a control panel allow operators to view what drones “see"
  • Robotic arms collect samples from the water or seabed, which can be attached to the vehicle

Marine environments are harsh, unpredictable and susceptible to a wide variety of weather conditions and upheavals, such as COVID-19. Deterioration of ports is more likely to accelerate with extreme climate changes and a drastic increase in usage caused by bottlenecks.

Therefore, reliable, regular observations and inspections via underwater drones are quickly becoming a popular solution. “The impact [of underwater drones] has been so impressive in overcoming the traditional challenges ports face in infrastructure and asset inspection that they have become a primary tool for the development of smart infrastructures," Mamari explained to


Jasmine Reimer

Jasmine Reimer

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