The importance of creating a Technological Free Zone

João Piedade

  (1)Innovation and Transformation Division, Portuguese Naval Staff

Paulo Simões

  (2)Network and Information Systems Division, Portuguese Naval Staff


The Decree-Law No. 67/2021 published in July 30 of 2021, established and defined the regime and governance model for the promotion of tech-based innovation through the creation of Technological Free Zones (TFZ).

According to this decree, TFZ are perceived as "test sites, geographically located, intended for testing of innovative technology, products, services and processes, by their promoters, in a safe manner, with the support and monitoring of the respective competent authorities, namely in terms of testing, provision of information, guidelines and recommendations, corresponding to the concept of regulatory sandbox".

On July 19, 2022, the Navy - together with the Portuguese National Innovation Agency (ANI) - presented the first Technological Free Zone (TFZ) created in Portugal, named INFANTE D. HENRIQUE; the event took place at the Maritime Operational Experimentation Centre (CEOM), in Tróia.

Acting as the testing authority, ANI is responsible for coordinating and managing the TFZ network in Portugal, in liaison with the national regulatory bodies. There are other TFZs under analysis, that ought to be implemented in the short-term; those new TFZs aim to experiment and test projects in areas like Mobility, Fintech, Communications, New Materials, and Environment, among others.

There is also a significant interest in developing and deploying them in the Portuguese archipelagos, which will allow the creation of a national network of TFZs, thus bringing together the regional industrial and academic sectors around the technological acceleration that Portugal requires.


The TFZ INFANTE D. HENRIQUE occupies an area of more than 1000 square miles (2590 square km), covering the municipalities of Sesimbra, Setúbal and Grândola; it is monitored at CEOM. In order to establish an area dedicated to the experimentation and operational testing of solutions with application on maritime environments - focusing mainly on Security and Defence, but also with dual use applications - the TFZ INFANTE D. HENRIQUE allows open-sea and real-world testing of unmanned security and defence systems, as well as technologies for subsurface, surface (land and water) and aerial environments.

This TFZ follows a regulation established by ordinance 189/22, of July 25. This Regulation stems from the collaborative work with multiple entities, namely the testing authority (ANI), the regulatory bodies (AAN, ANAC and ANACOM) and other stakeholders (DGRM, FAP, ICNF, APA and IdD Portugal Defence).

Due to the geophysical characteristics of this area, where the Setúbal canyon is located, it is also important to highlight that the TFZ INFANTE D. HENRIQUE will provide access to various types of seafloor and deep environments, enabling deep-sea exploration - which will be leveraged with the installation of an artificial island.

Although the sensing of this entire maritime area is not complete, the existence of a digital twin provides access to vast data (big data), meeting the ideal conditions for the safe validation of new applications and the testing of unmanned systems in subsurface, surface, and aerial environments (and associated technologies) at CEOM. In this sense, it will be possible to test these systems before they are implemented at sea, thus reducing the carbon footprint. Moreover, it allows the development of software using historical and real-time data and create simulation tools.

In order to strengthen the national business fabric, this TFZ promotes an effective and active collaboration with the industry, the academia, and end users. In fact, since its creation, dozens of tests have been carried out, alongside innovative experimentation projects featuring emerging and disruptive technologies with application in the maritime environment. We would like to highlight the K2D project, with the participation of INESC TEC and the Robotic Experimentation and Prototyping augmented by Maritime Unmanned Systems exercise, with numerous national and international participants from industry, academia, and the Navy - currently considered the largest NATO experimentation campaign, which featured, in 2022, 26 countries and almost 2000 participants on board vessels and ashore. The characterisation of the activities that can take place at this TFZ are available on the CEOM portal ( and in the Regulation approved by the aforementioned ordinance.


After the presentation ceremony of the TFZ applications, which took place on November 30, 2021, in Matosinhos - with the presence, among other entities, of the Minister of Economy, the Secretary of State for the Digital Transition, and the President of ANI - the authors, realising the importance of the project to the country, debated, filled out and submitted the application of TFZ Infante D. Henrique on the ANI portal while driving to Lisbon. That act, somewhere between Aveiro and Leiria, configured the soul of the project that formally began there. In fact, the gathering of entities, the enthusiasm of the team composed of its representatives, and the collaborative work developed, represented a body in constant acceleration that culminated with the formal creation of this TFZ on July 19, 2022.


The establishment of TFZ INFANTE D. HENRIQUE was a historic milestone of national pride, and a moment of affirmation of the Armed Forces - and the Navy in particular - in the Innovation sector.

Its approval made it possible to operationalise the first national and European experimental and operational testing infrastructure for dual-use technologies and sensors in the maritime environment. In this sense, the Navy and all those entities that collaborated - and still collaborate - within the scope of the TFZ take on a leading role in this specific project, focusing on the creation of a technological development accelerator in Portugal, and in Europe.

The creation process, also pioneering, currently encourages the creation of other TFZS in the continental territory and islands, thus favouring the possibility of building a network of infrastructures that, in collaboration, allow access to various TFZs for the design and development of products that use different technologies.

A production plan that’s globally optimised for customer service and efficient use of energy is often not optimised at machine level. We need to increase the acknowledgement of this duality among human resources who often have difficulty in understanding why production orders on their machines are no longer properly ordered, in their opinion.

The promotion of this network must bring together industry, academia, and end users, joining efforts to create an innovation-friendly ecosystem, with added value to the country.