Instrumented Locking System for Inland Waterway Navigation

SmartLock is a lock navigation aid that assists pilots in their lock approach.
The system presents the pilot with essential, precise information, in near-real time.
SmartLock is easy-to-use and presents information in an intuitive format that can be easily assimilated by the pilot.

essential distances between the tow and the lock

1.- Essential distances between the tow and the lock, and conditions at the lock, such as dam opening, river & wind conditions.
2.- SmartLock is easy-to-use and presents information in an intuitive format
that can be easily assimilated by the pilot.

The SmartLock system improves reliability and predictability of inland waterway transportation by improving safety and efficiency at the lock.  The largest sources of cost-savings facilitated by SmartLock are:

  • Reduce accidents at locks and bridge piers passages, saving about one million annually in unnecessary repair costs and tens of millions more dollars lost due to related delays.
  • Improves locking accuracy, even in low visibility.


Functions & Features

SmartLock presents the pilot with all information overlaid on an electronic navigation chart (ENC).  This figure shows a tow approaching Emsworth lock from upstream.  The thick blue arrow indicates a strong out-draft that will pull the tow toward the center of the river.  Distances of the bow and stern from the guide wall are precisely labeled as is the distance from the bow to the bullnose.  Information about conditions, such as wind, dam opening and current are displayed in the upper-right corner.
In addition to basic navigational aid features, SmartLock will be extended to provide data collection capabilities, training and guidance modules for pilots unfamiliar with a given lock, and allow pilots to review their most recent lockages.

Finally, by using Internet standard WLAN wireless technologies for transmission of river conditions data will also allow towboat operators Internet access in the area of Smart Locks.  This may be used for communication with the home office or simply to provide pilots with a link to terra firma.

Emsworth Lock (OH-01)

System Requirements

SmartLock relies on only well-tested and understood technologies.  High-precision GPS (Global Positioning System) is used to locate the precise location of the tow via satellite.  This is combined with survey points on the lock structure to calculate distances of interest to the pilot.  The lock provides data about conditions such as dam openings, currents and wind.  The pilot receives the information via a Wireless LAN (IEEE 802.11), certified by the same encryption technology used to transmit credit card data over the Internet.  Finally, SmartLock information is overlaid on Electronic Navigation Charts (ENC, IHO S-57), installed on standard personal computers, and displayed to the pilot.

SmartLock Architecture


The Port of Pittsburgh Commission retains the Patent Rights for SmartLock technology. Product developers may license its use from the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.

Additional Information
Presentations and Reports

The Port of Pittsburgh Commission welcomes inquiries about SmartLock.  For more information, contact Jim McCarville at 412.201.7335, or

Last updated: 4/5/2017 7:12:31 AM