Sony high-resolution cameras boost automated drone inspection in the Port of Hamburg

Sony customer HHLA Sky uses Alpha 7R cameras and the Sony Camera Remote SDK on its automated drones for critical crane safety inspections in the Port of Hamburg, boosting efficiency and improving results.

How we helped
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The challenge
  • HHLA Sky needed to improve the efficiency of its safety and maintenance inspections at the Container terminal
  • The company tried using drone photography but found it had insufficient resolution for critical work
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The solution
  • Working with drone application developer Dronivo, HHLA Sky implemented Sony’s high-resolution 61MP Alpha 7R cameras and the Sony Camera Remote SDK
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The outcome
  • Automated remote inspection of the gigantic container cranes from a safe distance, with enough detail to reliably detect issues
  • HHLA Sky plans to roll out the system across container ports worldwide

The pictures are so good that we can detect even tiny scratches on the cranes. We use the native 61mp resolution to let us digitally zoom in and still have a sharp image.

Matthias Gronstedt

A drone visible through a window

Integrating Sony A7RIV and A7R V cameras with drone technology

Drones are automated inspection platforms, flying precisely, repeatably and often in dangerous or hard to reach places. They eliminate the need for ladders, scaffolding and platforms while boosting efficiency and ease of use.

Small consumer drones have limited range and resolving power for critical safety inspections. So, container port infrastructure specialist & mobile robot management expert HHLA Sky chose to integrate Sony A7RIV and A7R V cameras with their drones for their detailed images. The Sony cameras have an extremely high-resolution 61MP Full Frame Sony sensor. Coupled with Sony’s high-precision E-mount lenses and HHLA Sky’s industrial drones, they capture image quality and detail far beyond anything previously possible with industrial drone photography.

Helping to safeguard a commercial port

HHLA Sky, a division of HHLA, which runs Container Terminals at Port of Hamburg, is home to some of the world’s biggest container cranes. Each weighs over 2,000 tonnes, with a jib (the lifting arm) 80m in length. In every conceivable way, these machines are huge. And so, too, is the job of maintaining them.

Safety is paramount in a commercial port, where gigantic, moving machinery and freight co-exist with humans. Before drones, HHLA used human industrial climbers to scale their cranes and manually check for wear and damage visually. It was slow, laborious and not very flexible. Each crane requires inspection twice per year. It was a serious bottleneck. HHLA Sky found that conventional drone cameras lacked detail. It needed something significantly better.

A group of cargo ships in a port
Two men checking large screens

Powerful remote imaging applications

So the company turned to Sony and the A7R series of cameras. Sony’s expertise in digital images stretches back for decades, and its sensor technology is second to none. HHLA Sky, Third Element and Ludwigshafen-based drone specialist Dronivo integrated the Sony cameras using the Sony Camera Remote SDK, allowing them to perform optimally in a drone environment.

Sony’s A7R V’s full-frame sensor can shoot 8K video and extremely detailed still images, and Sony’s camera remote SDK unleashes the cameras’ full potential. With full access to menu items and even “hidden” camera features that aren’t available to “conventional” users, it’s a potent formula for building powerful and efficient remote and aerial imaging applications.

Capturing impressive details

The container cranes are massive objects made of metal, so big that they can distort radio signals to and from drones. So HHLA Sky keeps its drones around 15m away. But conventional drone cameras aren’t good enough at that distance. Replacing them with the 61MP Alpha 7R V cameras immediately gave the company the detail required.

It also meant that, with a bigger area covered in a single image, Sony-equipped drones could complete their missions with fewer shots, packing more work into the available flight times between battery changes. For safety-critical drone inspections, there is a wide range of Sony E-mount lenses to choose from. With high precision optics minimise distortion, they can resolve even the smallest cracks in the surfaces of the cranes.

How good are the pictures? According to HHLA Sky CEO Matthias Gronstedt, “The pictures are so good that we can detect even tiny scratches on the cranes. We use the native 61mp resolution to let us digitally zoom in and still have a sharp image. We are developing AI to recognise defects and automatically prepare reports. For us, the combination of our drones, the Sony Camera Remote SDK and the A7R camera just works. We’ve had no hiccups whatsoever.”

Sony Camera Remote SDK

HHLA-Sky’s business model is to build a reliable, high-precision drone operation, from the camera to the analytics and reporting back-end. As an application that is scalable overall. To do this, it has to have fine control over virtually every aspect of the cameras. With the Sony Camera Remote SDK, HHLA Sky can capture, transfer and process inspection image data and metadata as part of its overall drone operation. The company worked directly with Sony’s SDK team, receiving proactive support, which, together with its own integration skills, ensured the collaboration’s success.

Data security is vital, and by being in control of the end-to-end inspection process – including the Sony Camera SDK and the cameras themselves – it’s possible to build a cybersecurity safety zone around drone operations.

Automated drone inspection and measurement are poised for rapid growth. With dramatic cost savings, end-to-end security, and increasingly accurate results, it will play a significant part in modern commercial infrastructure, logistics and planning.

Improved efficiency

HHLA Sky continues to improve its automated drone management system, where a single instance can monitor and control more than 100 or 200 drones simultaneously – with only a few human drone supervisors. With its industrial-strength security and experience in eliminating cyber and AI-generated risks, HHLA Sky’s end-to-end solution can easily be installed at any port or industrial facility worldwide.

And with Sony’s A7R V ultra-detailed images, orchestrated and automated by the Sony Remote Camera SDK, the process becomes more efficient, precise, and faster.

A person looking at a drone flying in the sky