Amsterdam’s serene waterways will soon be dotted with autonomous boats.
MIT and the AMS Institute are to collaborate to help solve some of Amsterdam’s complex urban and environmental issues. The two, along with Delft University of Technology and Wageningen University, are joining forces on the development of a fleet of autonomous boats – named “Roboats” – that will operate in the Dutch capital’s canal system.
Project Roboat has been granted a €25 (c. $27.5) million budget and will seek to improve the workings of Amsterdam’s waterways. Led by researchers from MIT, it could set a precedent for coastal cities and waterway systems around the world. Although autonomous boats present an ingenious way of transporting goods and people, the project will also touch on the development of floating infrastructure. This could range from on-demand bridges to floating platforms that allow the city’s canals to become a venue for concerts and other events.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for Amsterdam,” says the city’s alderman and 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.”
In many ways, Amsterdam is the perfect testing ground for a marine IoT project deployed at scale. The Dutch capital is almost 25 percent covered by water, has more than 1,000 kilometers of canals and 1,500 bridges, along with a strong history of urban innovation. As autonomous transport moves from the roads to the water, the city of Amsterdam is an ideal place to test new, water-based mobility solutions. Project Roboat’s findings will provide data and insight for similar solutions around the world.
Autonomous boats “offer enormous possibilities”
“Roboat offers enormous possibilities,” says Professor Arjan van Timmeren, AMS Institute’s scientific director. “We’ll also be exploring environmental sensing. We could, for instance, do further research on underwater robots that can detect diseases at an early stage or use Roboats to rid the canals from floating waste and find a more efficient way to handle the 12,000 bicycles that end up in the city’s canals each year.”
The Roboat program will initially run for five years, with the first prototypes expected on Amsterdam’s canals in 2017. As well as trialling transport and infrastructure solutions, Roboats will be fitted with a number of sensors and devices to offer sophisticated readings on environmental concerns in Amsterdam surrounding air and water quality. Real-time information on the levels of pollution is just another way that the Dutch capital’s waterways are about to get a whole lot smarter.