Amsterdam as testbed for autonomous boats

With self-driving cars gradually appearing on the roads, Amsterdam is the first city to focus on autonomous boats. In collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute) has started the world’s first major research programme into the use of autonomous boats in cities.

The Roboat project, based in Amsterdam, will be conducted by researchers from MIT, Delft University of Technology (TUD) and Wageningen University and Research (WUR).

The fleet of autonomous boats will be used for the transport of goods and people, but also as temporary floating infrastructure. The flat, rectangular Roboats can be used as movable docks, which could provide an excellent way of delivering goods via the city’s heavily trafficked waterways. They could also clean up rubbish from Amsterdam’s canals, and be combined into mobile bridges and stages that could be assembled in just a few hours. Reducing the amount of goods currently transported via Amsterdam’ busy streets would relieve traffic congestion.

The boats will also be equipped with environmental sensors, and networks of these sensors might be able to detect diseases at an early stage.

Water and technology in Amsterdam

“It is a fantastic opportunity for Amsterdam,” says City of Amsterdam alderperson Kajsa Ollongren. “To have the world’s most prominent scientists work on solutions with autonomous boats in this way is unprecedented, and most fitting for a city where water and technology have been linked for ages.”

Though the research will take place in Amsterdam, the goal is to use this knowledge for urban areas around the globe. The first prototype Roboats are due to appear in Amsterdam in 2017.