Autonomous Roboats for Amsterdam’s city canals

This project imagines a fleet of autonomous boats for the transportation of goods and people that can also cooperate to produce temporary floating infrastructure This project imagines a fleet of autonomous boats for the transportation of goods and people that can also cooperate to produce temporary floating infrastructure

The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) has signed an agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to engage in research collaboration to develop a fleet of autonomous boats for the city’s canals.

AMS will bring together a consortium of public and private partners to tackle complex urban challenges such as water, energy, waste, food, data, and mobility and in addition to MIT will join with the Delft University of Technology and Wageningen University and Research Centre to use Amsterdam as a living laboratory and test bed.

The first project that the consortium will be working on is Roboat, which is an effort to develop a fleet of autonomous boats, or “roboats,” to investigate how urban waterways can be used to improve the city’s function and quality of life. The Roboat project will develop a logistics platform for people and goods, superimposing a dynamic infrastructure over one the world’s most famous water cities.

“This project imagines a fleet of autonomous boats for the transportation of goods and people that can also cooperate to produce temporary floating infrastructure, such as on-demand bridges or stages that can be assembled or disassembled in a matter of hours,” says Carlo Ratti, professor of the practice of urban technologies in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

In addition to infrastructure and transport for the city, Roboat will also deploy environmental sensing to monitor water quality and offer data for assessing and predicting issues related to public health, pollution, and the environment. “By focusing on the water system of the city, Roboat can create opportunities for new environmental sensing methods and climate adaptation. This will help secure the city’s quality of life and lasting functionality,” says Arjan van Timmeren, professor and scientific director at AMS. He envisions a multitude of possibilities for a network of roboats, from real-time sensing of environmental factors to retrieving the 12,000 bicycles or cleaning up the floating waste that ends up in the Dutch city’s canals each year.

It is anticipated that the first prototypes of autonomous boats, or roboats will be ready for testing in Amsterdam in 2018. The project’s initial phase of testing and evaluation will last for five years.

With nearly one-quarter of the city covered by water, Amsterdam is an ideal place for developing Roboat, according to the researchers. The canal system was once the key functional urban infrastructure of the city and today still plays a major role in recreation and tourism. Amsterdam’s waters, including bridges, canals, and the river and its docks, offer plenty of opportunity to help solve current issues with transportation, mobility, and water quality.

By Dag Pike

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