When entering or leaving ports or locks, as well as during berthing and unberthing operations, ships maneuver in areas that are difficult to see. In addition, hydrodynamic and meteorological circumstances, i. e. strong tidal currents and rapidly changing weather conditions, prevent nautical personnel from assessing a maneuvering situation efficiently and safely. Even pilots with local knowledge must adapt to constantly and suddenly and quickly changing environmental conditions and make the right navigational decisions with certainty.

Especially in tidal ports, the respective water depth must be considered, as these ports can only be entered and left at the appropriate water levels. In narrow time windows this leads to increased traffic volumes, which is one of the main causes of damage to ships and port infrastructure. In the best case it only means damage to property and loss of use for ship owners or port operators, but it can also have worse consequences with personal injury or environmental damage.


The aim of the SmartKai project is to develop a ship-independent assistance system that is installed at the port infrastructure to prevent and minimize damage to ships and in ports. On the basis of innovative, locally distributed and laser-based digital sensor technology, the assistance system is to create a consistent and standardized situation picture for different target groups. A prototype will prevent ship accidents and damage to port infrastructure. In addition, the causes of occurring damages can be directly identified, and it will be a big step forward to also detect their causes, and to counteract and eliminate them.

As part of this digitization project, SICK AG is developing a new sensor system that is to be sensibly installed at land-based locations in Wilhelmshaven and Cuxhaven (NPorts) that have an increased risk of accidents, such as port basins, quay walls, and lock gates.

Another challenge is to enable pilots, nautical ship and port personnel ashore to use the information provided efficiently for safe navigation, human-machine interaction, and the design of a convenient user interface. The partner Humatects GmbH investigates how the user interface has to be designed to minimize the cognitive load of all users and thus make safe navigation possible.

The consolidation of the locally distributed sensor sources as well as the validation and evaluation of the system are carried out by the R&D department Transportation of OFFIS by means of its technology development platform eMIR (eMaritime Integrated Reference Platform).

The SmartKai project has a duration of three years (December 2019 to November 2022) and the project volume amounts to approximately 2.4 million Euros, 73% of which is provided by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI). The network coordinator of SmartKai is Niedersachsen Ports GmbH & Co. KG (NPorts).



DLR e.V.

IHATEC - Innovative Hafentechnologien

Bundesministerium für Digitales und Verkehr