Inland waterway network
A conversation with Klaus-Günter Lichtfuß

The next generation of inland shipping

Congested roads, traffic jams and high levels of particulate pollution – the current mobility model is coming up against its limits. A change in transport policy is therefore long overdue. The debate is dominated by keywords such as a ban on diesel vehicles, car sharing, autonomous driving and electromobility. But what form will mobility take in the future?

Swarm mobility as an environmentally friendly, intelligently controlled and fairly distributed type of mobility with electrically driven vehicles is increasingly standing out as a possible mobility system of the future.

The Plan for Federal Traffic Routes envisages that freight transport on inland vessels will grow by 23 per cent by 2030. What does swarm mobility mean in this context, Mr Lichtfuß?

At BEHALA, we, together with the Potsdam Shipbuilding Research Station, have been working on the development of user concepts in order to optimise supply chains. This raised the question as to where boat traffic could be used in established freight transport chains. Today lorries are used for the most part. If just a share of this volume were transferred to water, it would relieve the strain on the roads and environment considerably. When it comes to logistics, we need to get off the roads and onto the water. However, if we really want to achieve this, we need to make all waterways usable. Smaller waterways are a major reserve which we can still exploit. Smaller vessels are arranged in formation and coupled to create a swarm. This makes good economic, environmental and social sense.
In terms of drive technology, we rely on hybrid concepts. The keywords here are noise protection and zero emissions.

This all sounds like a dream of the future. When can we expect the first trials?

The automation of shipping on rivers and lakes presents an opportunity to unlock the untapped potential of waterways. The idea involves small and flexible inland vessels communicating with each other, determining their routes themselves and loading and unloading autonomously at distribution centres. Here, digital assistance systems could calculate the most energy- and resource-efficient mode of driving and also detect accident risks early on.
Test situations are required to turn this vision into reality. The Spree-Oder waterway is our large-scale lab. The project A-SWARM started on 1st September 2019 and should run through to mid-2022.

What challenges are to be faced?

Captains’ experience is vital in cases of changing substrata, in particular, as they know and can assess the underwater conditions. Which all means that there is still a lot to do.