Transport management, security, energy research, automation

Maritime research

Approximately 70 percent of Earth's surface is covered by water. Cargo is transported on maritime routes, offshore wind farms supply power, and bodies of water are being altered as a result of climate change. At the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), maritime research investigates oceans, lakes and rivers, and draws upon findings from all its areas of research – aeronautics, spaceflight, energy, transport and security. "Our expertise ranges from sensor technologies and data processing to the control of large interconnected systems," says Thoralf Noack, Maritime Research Coordinator at DLR. Maritime research ranges from satellite-based Earth observation to the development of new propulsion systems for ships and more. DLR also focuses on maritime transport management, by developing processes for the ports of the future, which will be more highly automated, digitalised and networked. Maritime security is not merely an issue on shipping routes or in ports; protecting critical infrastructure also extends to offshore facilities.

DLR operates its own maritime test fields and real-world laboratories and is involved with those run by third parties, such as the e-Maritime Integrated Reference Platform (eMIR). This also promotes transfer from research to applications. At the same time, DLR is helping to make the maritime domain a dependable and neutral partner for industry.

Maritime transport management

People and freight should be able to move quickly and securely from one place to another in an environment-friendly way. This requires reliable sea routes and ports that enable easy switching between road, rail and water transport. Referred to as intermodal logistics, this is also an essential factor in international competition. Sea routes and ports are considered critical infrastructure for good reason.

The digitalisation of sea routes, ports and ultimately the entire supply chain leads to new technologies and business models. Sensor technologies, networking, smart information processing and control all feature in the whole-system design of maritime transport. Broadband communications from ship to ship and from ship to shore create the conditions for traffic optimisation and control. At the same time, they serve as the basis for highly automated assistance systems including autonomous shipping. These developments also enable the digital representation of maritime traffic and ports right through to inland logistics.

DLR supports these activities with its scientific expertise, such as in the FuturePorts project. In this project, researchers are actively shaping the port of the future. Ten DLR institutes are working on optimising traffic routing, advancing emission-free shipping, developing highly automated assistance systems and improving the coordination of transport chains.

Maritime security

DLR makes an important contribution to improving maritime and coastal security in Germany and internationally. In doing so, it consolidates the capabilities of security authorities and operators of critical infrastructure, while also fostering innovation and growth in the maritime supply industry. The objectives of maritime security research at DLR are aligned with the needs of stakeholders that are of prime importance in supplying goods, services and energy. These include safe transport routes, a resilient energy supply and a marine environment that is as unpolluted as possible.

DLR has been conducting research into maritime security for more than 10 years. Since then, its expertise has been successfully harnessed to develop security-related technologies and systems. DLR's interdisciplinary approach allows it to identify realistic scenarios and offer practical solutions, including sensor technologies from the seabed to space for monitoring maritime regions, methods for detecting hazardous substances on the water surface, technologies for detecting discarded munitions on the seabed, assistance systems for helicopter operations at sea, methods for protecting against attacks and strengthening the resilience of maritime infrastructure, and encryption techniques for maritime communications.

Maritime energy research

The maritime sector has immense potential for reducing emissions. This is why DLR is working on sustainable solutions for maritime energy and propulsion systems. From component development to testing on land and at sea, new propulsion technologies are continuously being developed and tested, along with alternative fuels and the necessary infrastructure. Virtual ship models also play a role in this.

DLR is developing sustainable propulsion systems for various performance classes. To that end, its experts conduct research into the entire range of available energy systems and energy sources, from fuel-cell-based propulsion to batteries and alternative fuels. They are also working on design methods for on-board energy systems and tanks, together with the necessary supply infrastructure in the port. A whole-system approach to research that takes account of the specific challenges in the maritime sector is essential for a successful transformation. DLR is developing methods to make the entire ship system more energy-efficient and sustainable in the context of new maritime energy systems. This includes investigating the reliability and safety of systems in maritime applications, complex integration into the different performance classes and their ship-specific challenges, and reducing the overall energy requirement while maintaining the same performance.

DLR supports the transformation of the entire maritime sector, including decarbonisation. The research is brought together at the Institute of Maritime Energy Systems.


Assistance systems for highly automated and autonomous travel on water will make future shipping safer, more efficient and more comfortable, while also helping to shift freight traffic from roads to waterways. Greater autonomy requires a new distribution of roles between humans and machines, for example by means of remote control or operations centres.

The SmartKai mooring assistant developed by DLR is one example of the new assistance systems, with laser, radar and environmental sensors integrated into the quay wall. The data acquired is displayed using a tablet on the bridge. The quayside sensors assist the ship’s command and pilotage personnel during berthing. The SciPPPer project also accomplished the world's first automated lock entry. This was based on a platform developed by DLR for highly precise position and orientation determination. Lock entries are among the most difficult manoeuvres in ship navigation.

The DLR e-Maritime Integrated Reference Platform (eMIR) test field offers a research and technology platform for highly automated assistance systems and autonomous maritime shipping. The maritime shipping zone from Brunsbüttel via Cuxhaven and Wilhelmshaven to Helgoland was equipped for this purpose. Highly automated inland waterway vessels, particularly for new applications in urban logistics, are being developed together with partners in the digital test field on the Oder–Spree Canal (DigitalSOW).

24 DLR institutes and facilities with maritime topics

DLR's maritime research activities are currently spread across 24 institutes and facilities. The DLR Institute for the Protection of Maritime Infrastructures in Bremerhaven and the DLR Institute of Maritime Energy Systems in Geesthacht and Kiel are exclusively devoted to maritime topics. The DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation in Neustrelitz also has a specialist department for nautical systems. A maritime working group at the Earth Observation Center uses radar sensors to explore the oceans. The Institute of Systems Engineering for Future Mobility has maritime teams in all departments, developing highly automated and autonomous transport systems and identifying requirements. There are larger maritime teams at the institutes of Robotics and Mechatronics, Atmospheric Physics, Engineering Thermodynamics, Flight Systems, Microwaves and Radar, and Transportation Systems. The institutes of Flight Guidance, Optical Sensor Systems, Transport Research, Vehicle Concepts, Air Transport, Space Propulsion, Lightweight Systems, Quantum Technologies, Future Fuels, Combustion Technology, System Dynamics and Control, Networked Energy Systems, and the Flight Experiments facility are also involved.

DLR operates 55 infrastructure elements and large-scale technical systems that are used entirely or partially for maritime research.

Background articles




Video - Maritime test field – e-Maritime Integrated Reference Platform (eMIR)
The e-Maritime Integrated Reference Platform (eMIR) test field contributes to making tomorrow's shipping safer and more efficient. As the reference maritime test field, eMIR offers industries, small and medium-sized enterprises and research institutes the opportunity to research and develop highly automated assistance systems and concepts for autonomous ships. eMIR is operated and developed by the DLR Institute of Systems Engineering for Future Mobility in collaboration with OFFIS.

DLR, OFFIS – Institut für Informatik


Katja Lenz

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne
Tel: +49 2203 601-5401

Denise Nüssle

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Pfaffenwaldring 38-40, 70569 Stuttgart
Tel: +49 711 6862-8086

Thoralf Noack

Coordinator for Maritime Research
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Kalkhorstweg 53, 17253 Neustrelitz