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Technology in inland navigation

Workers on the world’s rivers are exposed to the same technological trends as workers elsewhere: the increased use and integration of communications technologies, the automation of tasks, the use of data to monitor processes, and the related increased ability to monitor employees. However, infrastructure and equipment in the sector, particularly the vessels themselves, tend to be old – in Europe many ships are over 30 years old for example. So any substantial technological change will require significant investment.

The technology being developed in the sector is similar to that being deployed in the maritime sector, navigation aids, communication in the vessel and between vessels, and between vessels and riverside infrastructure. And of course, river and lakeside ports will also be subject to the semi-automation of cranes and gantries as we are witnessing in seaports. We can also expect a shift from maintenance by schedule to maintenance on demand due to the deployment of sensors on equipment like engines, which has reduced the need for mechanics in other sectors. On the vessels we are likely to see the deployment of more video cameras, microphones and various types of tags, or fitness trackers that can have a health and safety role, but which can also expose workers to increased monitoring and subsequent forms of pressure.

The automation, or remote control of river traffic other than of shore-to-shore ferries is highly unlikely given the density of traffic and the lack of time or space for manoeuvre. Rivers and other inland waterways are subject to weather changes as well as rip currents due to tides or changes in water flow, which often require highly skilled and experienced pilots and captains. With much river traffic taking place near highly populated or environmentally protected areas, and carrying large numbers of people, it would take significant advances in the technology before its deployment would become safe enough to be feasible.