- Visitors to Amsterdam may soon notice a self-driving boat the size of a small car gliding gently through the city’s old canals.
- On Oct. 27, the creators unveiled the first two full-size, operable Roboats after four years of experiments with smaller models and tweaks to the concept.
- Below the waterline, the Roboat operates similarly to an upside-down air drone.
Roboats to be tested on Amsterdam’s Canals
Visitors to Amsterdam may soon notice a self-driving boat the size of a small car gliding gently through the city’s old canals, ferrying passengers or hauling products or rubbish.
It will be the electric-powered “Roboat,” a more appealing moniker than “autonomous floating vehicle,” for a project that will soon begin test travels intended at boosting the city’s transportation alternatives.
“We have a lot of road traffic and congestion, e-commerce, and logistics cluttering the city’s small streets,” said Stephan van Dijk, Innovation Director at Amsterdam’s Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, which is designing and engineering Roboat in collaboration with The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“At the same time, there is a lot of open water in the canals. So we created a self-driving, autonomous ship to assist with logistics in the city as well as transporting passengers.”
Waste collection project
On Oct. 27, the creators unveiled the first two full-size, operable Roboats after four years of experiments with smaller models and tweaks to the concept.
One of the craft’s initial test uses will be for an unglamorous but necessary task: garbage collecting.
Trucks are generally used for the work, although they pose a safety threat on the city’s tiny streets and cause traffic bottlenecks. Instead, Roboats stationed at the water’s edge will serve as floating garbage cans, scooting back to base when full.
The city, which is supporting the effort, is looking into areas for a waste collection trial project that will begin early next year, according to Van Dijk.
To minimize collisions, Roboats will need to be digitally connected to the city’s water traffic management, but Van Dijk said one major benefit is that they don’t require human drivers and can “see” as well at night as they can during the day.
How does the Roboat operate?
Below the waterline, it operates similarly to an upside-down air drone: two propellers, one fore, and one aft, and two thrusters on either side of the bow enabling it to maneuver quickly, including flawless berthing that would put most human skippers to shame.
Positioning is aided by laser imaging in the front, GPS systems in the front and rear, and several cameras on the sides. The Roboat is programmed from computers on land.
It has not yet been granted authorization to enter the city’s regular water flow carrying passengers. Longer-term, the 1,200 kilograms (2,645 lb) craft’s medium size and somewhat boxy frame may be utilized for passenger, garbage, and transport versions, and it was designed so that Roboats can connect together.
Linking Robats will allow for more one-time applications, such as establishing a floating concert platform, a temporary bridge, forming a barge, or, in sea-faring versions, forming a circle of Roboats to assist contain an oil spill, according to Van Dijk.
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