It’s important to know exactly what’s happening around you when operating at sea. You want to be able to detect criminal activities or potential threats while simultaneously operating in a safe and sustainable way. Using radar, sonar, and by measuring sound under water, we can analyse the effects of the increasing pressure we’re putting on marine environments. Our close collaboration with the Royal Netherlands Navy and Thales has made the Netherlands a global leader in the development of innovative sensor and information systems. 

Our North Sea is becoming busier. This makes us vulnerable. Every year, 250,000 ships traverse the Dutch part of the North Sea. Raw materials are extracted, energy is generated, fish is caught, and military exercises are conducted. The seabed is covered with thousands of kilometres of crucial infrastructure, such as cables and pipelines for energy and communication. Shipwrecks and ammunition from the past can also be found there. But where exactly are these explosives located, and are they still dangerous? TNO is developing innovative technology to analyse the maritime environment and localise objects.


Radar systems are essential to develop an accurate picture of the environment. Whether concerning ships or drones, unmanned or crew-operated, radar generates a reliable image of the above-water environment, day and night, and under any weather conditions. It is even possible to use radar to observe (enemy) rockets or satellites at great distance.


How do you ensure optimal image recognition at sea? TNO is investigating drone-based automatic detection. Weather-resistant and equipped with HD or infrared cameras, the drones scan the surface of the water and the coastline, analysing the images generated in real time. This allows them to automatically detect water-sports enthusiasts and beach visitors in distress across a much larger area, and even fly to drowning people independently.

We’re making technological breakthroughs by combining our unique knowledge of sensor systems with the development of smart, real-time algorithms in areas such as image improvement, image analysis, pattern recognition, autonomous observation systems, inspection systems, and smart sensors and cameras. In this way, TNO is developing intelligent sensor systems that assist us in observing and interpreting everything around us.


Multifunctional radars

Drones move differently to ships or aeroplanes. Therefore, a drone’s radar needs to perceive in a different way. For this reason, TNO is developing unique technology for new sensors that are small enough to equip drones with their own radar system. To achieve this, we’re created a design for an omnidirectional sensor. This technology is unique in the world of radar systems. It’s an innovative concept that has the potential to execute a wide range of tasks that until now have been impossible.

Would you like to operate safely at sea through optimal perception?

We can help you out.



Establishing information dominance is crucial for the Royal Netherlands Navy, and increasingly so for commercial shipping. Sound is really the only way to send and receive signals under water over longer distances. Sonar transmits short sound pulses and listens to the signals that come back. TNO is contributing to this information position with state-of-the-art sonar algorithms.


We’re able to automatically classify and localise ships in the environment by recognising their acoustic signatures. Our knowledge of sound enables our submarines to be extremely quiet under water, while our acoustic sensors help reduce our ships’ vulnerability to attacks. TNO has more than fifty years of experience in the realm of ship acoustics and underwater acoustic signatures. Both the Royal Netherlands Navy and the commercial shipbuilding industry and its suppliers draw on the knowledge and expertise that TNO has built up.


The threat of mines is a problem encountered globally during operations at sea. Thanks to the continued development of sonar techniques, our security services can detect mines and explosives buried deep in the seabed. Through the detection of mines and mine analysis and threat evaluations, we can make the sea a lot safer for the fishing and shipping industries, harbours, and for the maintenance of sea cables and the construction of wind farms.


TNO is able to reliably recognise fish species using innovative technology. This sonar technology distinguishes fish species and is used to minimise undesired bycatch. Every species of fish has its own acoustic signature, even if the differences between signatures are sometimes minute. This technology can help fishermen to distinguish between different species of fish. Based on their findings, they can then decide whether or not to cast out, thus reducing bycatch.


Research autonomous underwater drones

Underwater acoustics facilitates communication with divers, but also with drones. Underwater drones, so-called ‘Autonomous Underwater Vehicles’ (AUVs), provide good opportunities for the inspection of, for example, wind farms at sea. But they have to be able to communicate under water to fulfil this function. TNO has developed encrypted underwater Wi-Fi to securely send information and pilot the drones. Its reach varies from several hundred metres to kilometres, depending on environmental conditions and frequency bandwidth.


A busier sea generates more sound, which can significantly impact marine life. Our marine mammal research is an important spin-off of experiences we gained working with the Navy. The underwater sound knowledge we gained can also be used to protect marine life from the damaging effects of sound. We map out everything: sound sources, how sound is propagated in the sea, and the effects of sound on marine life. Sensitive marine mammals in particular benefit from the mapping out of environmental sound in the sea.

We process this data in simulation models and research how the impact of sound (think of the piling of foundations for wind farms, for example) on marine life can be reduced. Together with European shipbuilders and offshore companies, we’re working on methods to design quieter ships and equipment. The development of animal-friendly technology empowers sonar operators to prevent hearing loss among marine mammals by allowing them to find calmer areas for their sonar operations.


In accordance with the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive, countries in the North Sea are working together to create a clean and healthy sea that respects marine life. TNO’s innovations are ensuring optimal perception and making mines, oil pollution, wind turbines, hostile actions, drowning people, objects and marine animals maximally visible, above and below the surface of the sea.

Supported by our comprehensive understanding of underwater acoustics, TNO is making an important contribution, both in the fields of monitoring and simulation models. Our high-tech knowledge of radar, optics, sonar, and algorithms is among the best in the world. For our prosperity and well-being, we are collaborating with the Royal Netherlands Navy, ministries, provinces, municipalities, and industry to ensure the maritime future of the Netherlands. Together, we’re creating a safe sea.

TNO Insights

Van Oord: North Sea as breeding ground for innovation

22 June 2020
By cleverly combining energy systems, CO2 emissions in the North Sea can be drastically reduced. There will also be enough room for shipping and fishing, society will save billions of euros and the ecosystem... Read more

Operations at sea

Now that offshore companies are digging deeper and offshore wind farms coast are getting bigger and bigger, TNO is working on more effective exploration at sea. TNO's technological and technical innovations... Read more
Our work

Sea Mammals and Sonar Symposium

The two-day Sea Mammals and Sonar Symposium was held at St.Andrews University, 27-28 October 2015. Read more

Jeroen de Jonge MSc