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© MIT Senseable Lab / AMS Insitute
© MIT Senseable Lab / AMS Insitute
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A Fleet Of Self-Driving Boats Is Set To Appear In Amsterdam

Picture of Tom Coggins
Updated: 21 September 2016
Amsterdam’s iconic canal rings have been serving its citizens since the 17th century and remain a vital part of the city’s infrastructure. In the near future, these ancient waterworks will be transformed into a living laboratory, designed to test out the municipality’s latest urban project.

The city plans to introduce a massive fleet of self-driving boats into the canal ring, in order to solve several important urban issues. The project is aptly titled ‘Roboat’, and will be helmed by researchers hailing from MIT, Delft University of Technology and Wageningen University and Research.

These scientists were given a hefty grant to come up with a new solution to Amsterdam’s transport problems, and will release their first prototypes onto the canals by the end of 2017.

© MIT Senseable Lab / AMS Insitute
© MIT Senseable Lab / AMS Insitute

The boats are almost completely autonomous, and will be used to quickly transport goods and people around the city. Their compact size means that they will be able to slink between larger vessels while carrying several passengers, ensuring that traffic along the canals remains constant and efficient.

With minor adjustments, the boats can be linked together to form a temporary bridge, enabling pedestrians to quickly cross canals during major events or emergencies. As a conjoined unit, they can also be used as a platform for concerts or speeches.

© MIT Senseable Lab / AMS Insitute
© MIT Senseable Lab / AMS Insitute

As they will be constantly patrolling Amsterdam’s estuaries, the boats will be rigged to monitor the city’s water. Onboard sensors and computers will gather data on the chemicals flowing through the canals, allowing the municipality to track waste disposal, pollution levels and the movement of diseases.

The project is part of an ongoing effort by the local government to turn Amsterdam into greener, smarter city, and Roboat’s testing phase will last five years. Afterwards, these little crafts could become permanent residents, and might start appearing in other comparably aquatic cities around the world.