Street View for waterways

The network of federal waterways is around 7,300 kilometers long and transports around 230 million tons of goods every year. To ensure that this runs smoothly and economically, the waterways must be kept functional and efficient. In the RiverCloud research project, IAV and its partners are investigating whether the rivers and canals can be better managed in the future through the use of AI, drones and unmanned boats.

To this end, an autonomous and interconnected system consisting of a watercraft and a missile will investigate waterways in tandem and collect infrastructure data about them. This data will help to manage the expansion and maintenance of waterways more quickly and easily.

The tandem system acts cooperatively and records the required data autonomously using the various measuring systems. In the project, IAV is responsible for integrating the measurement and control technology in the drone and watercraft as well as automating them. Equipped with radars, echo sounders, lasers and cameras, the system is thus able to record all infrastructure data – for example, buildings, properties and green spaces – and to create a digital flat image of the watercourses and their surroundings. A bathymetric lidar built into the flight system can even scan the river course down to the bottom, collecting data on water depth, for example.

kilometers is the length of the network of federal waterways.

The system will be deployed in the test area, a section of the Rhine in the Koblenz area, starting in the spring. Then the collected, high-resolution data will be compiled and integrated into models and workflows in water management and transport hydraulic engineering.

RiverCloud" project


  • RWTH Aachen University
  • Geodetic Institute and Chair of Civil Engineering Informatics &
    Geoinformation Systems (consortium leader)
  • Research Institute for Water and Waste Management at RWTH Aachen e.V.
  • IAV GmbH
  • SEBA Hydrometrie GmbH & Co. KG
  • Orthodrone GmbH
  • Federal Institute of Hydrology
  • Federal Waterways Engineering and Research Institute.
  • The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure.

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The article was published in automotion 01/2021, the automotive engineering magazine of IAV. Here you can order the automotion free of charge.

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