Autonomous ‘Roboats’ to debut in Amsterdam

A group of Roboats forming an ad-hoc bridge. Image courtesy of AMS.
A group of Roboats forming an ad-hoc bridge. Image courtesy of AMS.

The Dutch city of Amsterdam will play host to one of the world’s first projects to develop autonomous capabilities for boats.

Organised by the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS), the project will involve researchers from two Dutch universities as well as MIT.

The project itself, called Roboat, will attempt to create an autonomous boat able to be used in urban water-based transportation networks.

Roboat will be funded to the tune of €25m and will continue for at least 5 years.

The city of Amsterdam, with its huge network of canals and waterways will also be the initial testing ground for these autonomous boats.

The Roboat team believe this is the first such project of its size and scope anywhere in the world, and follows in the wake of successful autonomous vehicle demonstrations on land.

“It is a fantastic opportunity for Amsterdam,” says the city’s vice mayor 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.”

While primarily the autonomous boats produced as part of the Roboat project will be used for transportation, the researchers taking part also envisage a number of supplementary uses for the technology.

“Imagine a fleet of autonomous boats for the transportation of goods and people,” says Carlo Ratti, Professor at MIT and principal investigator in the Roboat-program, “but also think of dynamic and temporary floating infrastructure like on-demand bridges and stages, that can be assembled or disassembled in a matter of hours.”

Additional use cases for the Roboat craft include environmental sensing, and removing the large amounts of rubbish which ends up in the city’s canals.

Roboats used for such tasks would not necessarily be surface vessels, but also could be autonomous submarine vehicles.

While these more complex designs are likely still several years away, the first autonomous boats produced by the Roboat project are set to be deployed in Amsterdam by next year.