Exploring the possibilities of autonomous boats

With its network of canals, Amsterdam makes an ideal testing ground for self-driving boats. For the Roboat research project, the AMS Institute is collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore the rich possibilities of autonomous vessels; one of the ways in which Roboat units can be used is as moving, flexible bridges, and it is this function that is now being trialled in the roundAround project.

A dynamic bridge in Amsterdam

roundAround will provide a connection over the waterway between bustling, up-and-coming Marineterrein Amsterdam and the city centre. As the stretch of water between the two points is an important route for bigger boats, building a permanent bridge there is difficult. While walking the one-kilometre route around the water takes more than 10 minutes, roundAround could reduce this travel time to less than two minutes, seamlessly transporting hundreds of people per hour across the water.


“roundAround is one of the first proposed applications of Roboat, our research in collaboration with AMS Institute,” says Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab and Professor of the Practice at MIT. “The Roboat units of roundAround will autonomously respond to and learn from the dynamics of this Amsterdam waterway. As they operate, the system will become increasingly more intelligent and well-equipped to be implemented in other parts of the city and other cities worldwide.”

Maximising safety and efficiency through AI

roundAround’s multifunctional hulls are equipped with cameras and Lidar technologies powered by artificial intelligence. They can transport people and goods across the canal while constantly evaluating the surrounding environment to maximise safety and efficiency. The Roboat units – essentially electric boats – move in a continuous circle across the canal. Once at the quay, they are guided by a rail to a platform with charging infrastructure where they can pick up and drop off passengers.


At the forefront of smart mobility

Roboat and related research is a prime example for the exciting smart mobility initiatives and innovations that are coming out of Amsterdam. From shared electronic cars to smart parking, the Dutch capital is at the forefront of smart mobility.

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