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Dutch Grand Prix Zandvoort 2021

Formula 1 returned to the Netherlands last weekend after 36 years. The touring sporting event took place at the Zandvoort circuit from 3 to 5 September with a capacity of 67% compared to full capacity, good for approximately 70,000 visitors per day. In order to ensure that the flow of visitors would be smooth and that public transport would not be overloaded, an innovative drone pilot was carried out. Vortex Technology Services was asked by NS Stations to advise and support before, during and after the operation.

Traffic flows

The goal of the pilot is to map the traffic flow from the track to the NS Station using computer vision powered AI. By applying an advanced algorithm to the images taken by the drone, it will be investigated whether it is possible to make a better assessment of the traffic flow and the safety of large groups of people. The results at different heights, camera types and perspectives are also being examined. Project manager Jeroen van den Heuvel:

We are investigating whether the algorithm is capable of counting persons from a crowd of people. By setting up different measurement zones, we hope to measure not only the number of people, but also the speed of the crowd in certain zones. Based on this information, we can better balance the flows and ensure that the station and trains do not become too crowded. Because the AI processes the images in real time, there is no need to store the images. This also makes this solution privacy friendly.


A DJI M210 V2 with the DJI Zenmuse X7 camera was used for this operation. Due to the fact that the drone had to remain in a fixed position for 2 hours, an Elistair Safe-T 2 cable system was used, eliminating the limitations of the flight time (approximately 25 minutes). The Elistair Safe-T 2 is equipped with a 100-meter cable, an auto-retract system and various safety features such as an app with to read out important telemetry.

Flight Preparation

During the race days a TRA (Temporary Restriction Area) has been established. This means that this airspace is prohibited for civilian aircraft, with the exception of aircraft involved in the event and priority aircraft (HEMS, Police etc.). To make this test possible, agreements were made with the organization of the event and the airspace manager. Prior to the event, an Operational Plan was submitted and communication protocols were discussed. For example, prior to flight contact was made via the ZANDVOORT INFORMATION radio channel (120.140) and this channel was monitored during the flight to maintain an overview of manned traffic.


To ensure visitor safety and to minimize the impact of the operation, a take-off and landing area was chosen on the roof terrace of the station building of NS Station Zandvoort aan Zee. This allowed for a physical separation of the operational area and the pedestrian area due to the canopy above the pedestrian area of the station. This part of the station was closed to the public, but this also allowed the safety of staff and security to be protected. Remco Bunder (Pilot in Command) says the following about this:

Because the space on and around the station was limited by many obstacles and crowds, it was a challenge to find a suitable take-off and landing site. The roof terrace at Zandvoort aan Zee station was therefore an ideal location. We look back on a challenging but successful operation.


The data processing was done by a technology partner of NS Stations that has developed advanced algorithms for monitoring traffic flows. The images were sent in real time to the server, analyzed by the algorithm, and forwarded directly to NS in the Netherlands. This entire process takes about 20 seconds.


The first phases of the pilot have been successful. The use of drones allows an immediate overview to be created and a quicker response to the situation. In this way, NS Stations can better facilitate the flow of large crowds and increase the safety and ease of travel for train passengers. In the coming period the data will be evaluated and it will be determined whether the data can actually provide added value. Jeroen van den Heuvel:

This pilot consists of a number of phases. The first phases (preparation and implementation) have now been completed. In the coming period we will investigate whether the data is actually usable. Putting together the gigantic puzzle of data is only just beginning.


The following privacy terms were in effect during the pilot.



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