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Enforcement of the environmental regulations on sulphur emissions from ships using drone technology.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Project Sense (Enforcement of the environmental regulations on sulphur emissions from ships using drone technology.)

Reporting period: 2015-02-01 to 2015-07-31

Project Sense describes an innovative new approach to monitoring sulphur compliance from ships using drone technology.

Project Sense is aimed at offering a cost-efficient, highly scalable solution in answer to the urgent demand by enforcement authorities (end-users) for technologies that can help enforce the international restrictions on ship sulphur emissions that came into force on 1 January 2015. The new lower sulphur limits impost significant added operational costs to all shipowners operating within the international Emission Control Areas. If not enforced, the new limits threaten to create a devastating competitive disadvantage to those operators, many of them European, who comply with the rules.

Project Sense solves part of the enforcement challenge by using smart, self-guided drones programmed to intelligently seek out the ships at sea, sample the plumes using onboard sensors, and transmit the compliance results back in real-time. Based on low-cost hardware components tied together by an advanced software platform proprietary to Explicit I/S, Project Sense presents a highly competitive enforcement alternative to the authority end-users in Europe and globally.

The feasibility study is intended to assess the commercial viability and marketability of the prototype system. In particular, the regulatory requirements needed to operate autonomous drones in the key markets, optimising the software for smart flight and establishing key operational parameters, verifying the appropriate business model and exploring grounds for extended IPR. If the study is positive, a Phase 2 application will be considered to take the project into scale.
The following activities have been conducted during the course of Phase 1:
• Legal research into the regulatory framework governing the operation of commercial drones with a selected focus on Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany and the Nether-lands.
• Initial investigation into the requirements for a BVLOS test dispensation in Denmark.
• An additional airborne application has been added to the sniffer platform.
• 4 days of test-flights with both drones and helicopters have been performed in and around the island of Zeeland, Denmark to determine the indicative operational parameters of both platforms.
• A market analysis based on available input from the recent inspection service contract tendered out by the Danish Government in January 2015 as well as input on the status of compliance from various sources and market funding.
• A PCT application relating to the method patent on the solution was filed in February 2015.
This Phase 1 Action investigates the feasibility of using Explicit's proprietary airborne monitoring platform in the enforcement of the new international sulphur emission restrictions on ships in force from 1 January 2015. Note, the original application only included the use of drones to reach the ships but Project Sense has since - during the course of Phase 1 - been expanded to also include a standalone sensor box for easy-mount on helicopters. This study is consequently expected to conclude on the feasibility of both technologies.

The test flights performed in relation to this Action as well as other measurements reported since 1 January 2015 confirm that sulphur compliance is indeed an issue with non-compliance standing somewhere betweeen 5-20% of all vessels operating in European ECA waters. The evidence collected so far also point to violations happening at open sea with in-port inspections catching less non-compliance. This suggests that some vessels might consciously be managing their fuel consumption to avoid in-port detection, thus diluting the effect of the new regulations. To mitigate this dilution, selected EU member states bordering the European ECA have recently taken steps to further investigate offshore compliance and develop front-line strategies to compliment Port State Controls. Both the drones and the recently added sensor-box for mounting on helicopers are found to fit well into these initiatives, offering authorities a range of airborne options to further expand the knowledge of the status of compliance and ensure the impact of the EU Sulphur Directive through effective enforcement measures.

Both airborne platforms are also found to have significant competitive advantages to other airborne technologies (sniffer planes) which may be commercially explored. In the case of the drones, such commerciale exploitation is however dependant on the ability to optain beyond-visual-line-of-sight dispensation to operate the drones which pushes the commercialisation of these further into the future. The sensor box for helicopter mounting is however assess to be near-ready for full commercial exploitation pending large scale field trials to verify the operational performance.

In conclusion, Project Sense including both airborne platforms is found to have strong enough potential to advance the technology to Phase 2 in order to develop the it to market maturity. Explicit I/S expects to submit a Phase 2 proposal by September 2015. It should be noted that should a Phase 2 project be granted, such a project will in itself ― regardless of the commercial perspectives for Explicit I/S ― provide critical knowledge about the status of sulphur compliance within the EU ECA. As such a Phase 2 project holds considerable societal and political value to the European community and the effective implementation of the Sulphur Directive.
Illustration of the flight path of the drone.