Homeport now testing ground for forward-looking maritime technology

SERIES (7): Innovation campus for experiments with drones, driverless vehicles, VR and digital twin technology
29 November 2022

A possible future scenario in the Hamburg Port Authority's Homeport, where all kinds of applications and technologies come together, could feature people in additive manufacturing, drones and autonomous transport working alongside each other and might look like this: "A container ship in the port needs a spare part. That is 3D printed swiftly and precisely and delivered by drone - including VR equipment with instructions for the ship's engineer on how to install the new part safely. At the same time, driverless e-trucks unload the ship quietly and free of emissions," said Stefanie Teichmann, Product & Operations Manager at Homeport. Many diverse, forward-looking technologies can be tried out in real life at the campus near the St. Pauli Elbe Tunnel. Homeport celebrated its first anniversary in September which coincided with the debut of the Homecoming Homeport Festival in Hamburg on maritime solutions for mobile sensor technology, automation, robotics, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality and digital twin technology.

Waterborne, airborne and onshore innovations 

The 4,000 square-metre Homeport on the former Blohm+Voss car park features a container campus, testing ground for water drones, autonomous driving as well as a launch and landing pad for drones. "We offer port stakeholders in a central location an opportunity to try out, experiment and collaborate with others to advance innovations for the maritime industry and logistics - on water, on land and in the air," Teichmann pointed out. The project, which is due to last through 2023, should raise the efficiency of port land use and lower the impact on the environment. "Digitalisation, the energy transition and technological innovations such as drones or 3D printing are all top issues for the port of the future, which we want to actively shape with Homeport," she added.

Stefanie Teichmann, Manager of Homeport, on drone landing pad
© Yvonne Scheller
Stefanie Teichmann, Manager of Homeport, on drone landing pad
© Homecoming Homeport 2022
AIRIAL ROBOTICS GmbH's presentation at Homeport

World premiere

Homeport is going to great efforts to make the future tangible and to raise both trust in and acceptance of new technologies. When the project launched during the ITS World Congress in October 2021, visitors from Germany and abroad gained first hand experience of what a drone actually does. "Volocopter let its new cargo drone, the Volodrone, fly in public space for the first time during our show," said Teichmann. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are highly versatile especially for use in the port. "Apart from transport or inspection flights, they can play an important role in disaster control and be used e.g., for situation reconnaissance or to detect hazardous substances." The technology is already well advanced. Yet, many stakeholders have problems complying with the regulations. This is where Homeport can help. "We can't issue permits, but we know the procedure and can offer this expertise to our tenants."

Test area for autonomous driving

Developments in autonomous transport are picking up speed and especially real life tests of the vehicles. "Driverless lorries are gaining importance for the port given the ongoing lack of drivers," said Teichmann. Homeport offers an ideal testing ground for new automated road transport solutions. As if to prove the point, a delivery van promptly starts reversing. The manoeuvre is part of last-minute tests by several universities including the Technical University of Braunschweig and the Technical University of Clausthal before presenting their final project. Homeport also has workshops and co-working spaces in mobile containers.

Driverless vehicle at Homeport
© Yvonne Scheller
Testing ground for autonomous driving

Container campus

Yet some containers are permanent. Makerspace, which is part Hamburg's Fab Lab, offers infrastructure for additive manufacturing of prototypes or spare parts in its container. Other companies like the Fehrmann Tech Group, which specialises in windows and doors for ships, also have their own containers there. The company is pushing ahead with augmented reality ship windows and uses digital information to enhance the view through such a smart window and making shipping even safer. The Homeport project is due to last until December 31, 2023. "We must have proven by then that our testing ground for companies, start-ups and universities is self-sustaining," Teichmann said. HPA's start-up funding has helped the project take off and rental income should ensure that this particular "flight" remains on course.


Other parts in our series on "Idea Accelerators": 

(1) Start-ups now shaping media in Hamburg thanks to Media Lift 

(2) ZAL Innovation Accelerator boosting good ideas

(3) Foodlab accelerator coming up with recipes for success

(4) Start-ups join forces in Digital Hub Logistics for climate protection 

(5) Next Commerce Accelerator benefiting start-ups and established firms

(6) Shaping the economy with artificial intelligence