Exact real-time geo-positioning of vessels in the Port of Barcelona using 5G and AI

Barcelona, 18 November 2020. The Port of Barcelona started the ‘5G Maritime’ pilot test in July. The project aims to validate the location of ships in real time and with great precision, obtaining image data to complement the information from the current geolocation systems of the port (AIS and radar geo-positioning system). The pilot is based on a pioneering technological solution that combines artificial intelligence and cloud computing with edge computing technology (edge computing means computational processes carried out at the edge of the network closest to the user to avoid sending massive data and processing it in servers or remote data centres, significantly reducing latency and improving bandwidth consumption) and ultra-fast and low-latency communications with the commercial 5G network.

Around 9,000 ships dock at the Port of Barcelona each year. They vessels have many different characteristics and sizes, some as big as 400 metres long (approximately twice the length of a football pitch). Having very precise and real-time information on their movements and geolocation is essential not only to optimise docking space in the port, but also to offer the highest level of safety to ships and port services when performing manoeuvres.

‘5G Maritime’ has been created to help the Port of Barcelona optimise maritime traffic management and to improve safety and sustainability using complete information on ships, their location and the actions of the various port services. The project is part of the 5G Barcelona initiative and promoted by the Port of Barcelona, IBM, Vodafone, Huawei, Mobile World Capital Barcelona and Fundació i2CAT, with the support of the Catalan Regional Ministry of Digital Policies within Catalonia’s 5G Strategy.

The technological solution makes it possible to obtain fore and aft geo-positioning and a high-precision ship movement indicator that facilitates remote assistance to navigation. The port pilot will be able to accurately estimate valuable information for the entry and berthing operations of vessels in the port, such as the location of several ships sailing within the Port of Barcelona docks, the course or even the speed of the ship itself, all based on an analysis of video from 5G cameras installed around the port area

The project was presented last Monday by Jordi Puigneró, Catalan Regional Minister of Digital Policies and Public Administration; Mercè Conesa, President of the Port of Barcelona; Marc Estapé, director of IBM Catalonia and the Balearic Islands; Laura Molist, territorial director of Vodafone in Catalonia and Aragon; Eduard Martín, director of the 5G Programme of Mobile World Capital Barcelona and CEO of 5G Barcelona; and Vicente Zhong, regional director for the North and East of Huawei Spain.

At the event, Jordi Puigneró, Regional Minister of Digital Policies, underscored “the importance of this project linked to one of the country’s key infrastructures and to a sector like logistics that is also key to the entire Catalan economy, inserted into the Catalan Government’s 5G strategy and the alliance that we maintain with the Port of Barcelona to accelerate its digitalisation and turn it into a benchmark SmartPort.” Mr Puigneró added, “projects like this allow us to get ready for the impact of 5G and other advanced technologies in different areas of our society and as drivers of reactivation and dynamisation of the Catalan economy with the promotion of a new technological industry and above all, new jobs.”

Eduard Martín, director of the 5G Programme of Mobile World Capital Barcelona and CEO of 5G Barcelona, added that “this is a pioneering pilot test in the field of logistics in which the application of 5G in port environments will facilitate the improvement and automation of processes and will increase the safety and efficiency of these operations.”

Marc Estapé, director of IBM Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, remarked that “the combination of artificial intelligence with Edge Computing technologies and in the cloud in an ultra-fast communications environment makes this pilot test a pioneer in the industry, which puts us on track to obtain a high degree of precision in the recognition of port images with the consequent increase in optimisation.”

Laura Molist, territorial director of Vodafone in Catalonia and Aragon, commented that “public-private collaboration is essential for accelerating the development of 5G use cases such as the one presented today, since it allows us to make best use of the know-how and efficiency of the private sector, with the interests of the public sector in developing a powerful digital ecosystem adapted to the new technologies.”

Vicente Zhong, regional director for North and East of Huawei Spain, explained that “Huawei is proud to be taking part in this 5G innovation project in the Port of Barcelona, where we have provided our technological knowledge and R&D capabilities to contribute to the digitalisation of Catalonia. This ‘Maritime’ project is undoubtedly a clear example of how 5G technology and Artificial Intelligence will play a key role in this fourth industrial revolution.”

Finally, Mercè Conesa, President of the Port of Barcelona, explained that “having a network of cameras connected by 5G technology would represent an important advance in terms of safety for maritime traffic in the Port of Barcelona. But not only would it help us improve safety and security in the port area, which are of the utmost importance, but it would also help to optimise our dockside management. And it would facilitate the daily work of all port services — pilots, tug-operators and moorers.”

A pioneering technical roll-out

The technological solution comprises the following elements:

  1. An artificial intelligence model – IBM Maximo Visual Insights, created by IBM and trained on the IBM Cloud to recognise ships, and their bow and stern.
  2. Two sets of high-performance cameras and 5G terminals from Huawei located in the port, which capture the entry of ships in real time.
  3. Ultra-fast, low-latency communications provided by Vodafone’s commercial 5G network that transmit the images to the server, where the images received are run through an AI model which recognises and interprets them.

The artificial intelligence model is distributed to a server located in the port control tower using IBM edge computing technologies (IBM Edge Application). Subsequently, a geolocation algorithm translates the pixels of the images into geographic latitude and longitude coordinates. Finally, these geolocation data are integrated with the rest of the Port’s systems. The result is that the Port of Barcelona obtains more exact information —in real time— on the location of ships.


5G Barcelona is a public-private initiative working to position Barcelona and Catalonia as an innovative and open environment for the validation and adoption of 5G technologies and applications in a real life environment.

The initiative will create synergies within the 5G ecosystem and offer an experimental infrastructure to test, prototype and implement new digital solutions. 5G Barcelona aims to stimulate and consolidate the existing innovation in Barcelona and Catalonia, to help attract foreign investment, promote new technology companies and generate a complete industry around 5G technology.

The initiative is driven by the Catalan Government, Barcelona City Council, Mobile World Capital Barcelona, Fundació i2CAT, CTTC, Atos and the UPC.