The Digital Twin is a real-time visualisation of what is happening in the port area. Using different data sources to do so, it makes working at Port of Antwerp-Bruges safer and more efficient. The prestigious project has been operational since early 2022 and will only gain more possibilities as more data and applications are added.

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“Hello, I am APICA, your virtual assistant.

Welcome to the port of Antwerp-Bruges. It will be a sunny day, with a light breeze from the north-west.

There are currently 221 inland navigation craft and 180 ocean-going vessels. 95 new ships will be docking today, with 73 ships departing.

At 8.51am, iNose detected 22 potentially harmful substances in the air. The chemical tanker My Fair Lady may be the cause. It is currently sailing near Bevrijdingsdok. Would you like to collect an air sample? Select an available drone. Anticipated arrival: 1 minute and 23 seconds.”

APICA, a digital twin of the port

A multitude of data sources

The Digital Twin provides a scan of the port every second – a real-time view of what is happening at the port. How? By collecting all potentially relevant data through a network of sensors, drones and cameras, connected via a local 5G network and linked to external data such as geographical databases, ship data, meteorological data, radio communications and so on. In this way, the Digital Twin is a central nervous system through which – by allegory to human senses – we hear, see, smell and feel what is happening in the port area. The ultimate goal? To permanently monitor and control the vast port area.

Smart drones

Drones with smart cameras are already detecting oil spills at the port. They detect drift debris in the docks, which can cause damage to a ship's rudders and propellers, more quickly and efficiently. Daily inspection flights also provide incident support. Think of detecting hotspots in a large pile of smouldering wood and directing extinguishing efforts.


There are sensors on the lifebuoys' casing that send an alert signal if someone opens the casing or the casing is disconnected from the network. Electronic noses (iNoses) measure twenty volatile organic compounds around the clock to detect emissions of certain gases.

Bridges and locks

The system also reads the status of bridges and locks. In time, sensors should be measuring the state of infrastructure. Or the system could also retrieve images from smart cameras nearby. With data from these images it can identify a ship, train or truck.

Nautical draught

An autonomously sailing boat and sensors on tugs constantly gauge the depth in the navigation channels, allowing dredging to be carried out in a more targeted manner. This includes the maintenance of bridges, lock gates and quay walls.

We talk about the 'virtual secure port', where we're increasing the safety and security of the port area thanks to smart technology.

Erwin VerstraelenChief Digital and Innovation Officer Port of Antwerp-Bruges
Erwin Verstraelen

Artificial intelligence

The Digital Twin gets really interesting when the combination of big data and artificial intelligence also yields some useful conclusions. This is why Port of Antwerp-Bruges is developing algorithms that link the information of the iNoses to wind speed and direction data for the past few hours and days, as well as vessel log data. This allows us to identify the potential source of certain gas emissions. The system also detects near collisions between ships at lightning speed and sends out an alert. It is even possible to visually replay the routes travelled by ships for an insurance appraisal, or to find out the true circumstances of a collision.

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