Ahoy! Autonomous Boats Are 'Self-Sailing' Through Amsterdam Canals Next Year


Self-driving car prototypes are already roaming the streets, and autonomous boats are about to hit the waters next year.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has teamed up with two Dutch universities to start testing a small fleet of self-sailing boats next year. The first tests will be conducted in Amsterdam, ferrying goods and commuters.

The project is called Roboat, and it's a five-year, $27 million (€25 million) endeavor. The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute), together with MIT researchers, have already started the "world's first major research program on autonomous floating vessels in metropolitan areas."

Researchers from MIT, Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and Delft University of Technology (DUT) will be conducting the five-year Roboat program in the Dutch capital, deploying the first autonomous watercraft in Amsterdam canals next year.

According to the press release from the AMS Institute, Roboat will be the first large-scale research of its kind, aiming to test and explore the possibilities of autonomous watercraft.

"Imagine a fleet of autonomous boats for the transportation of goods and people," says Carlo Ratti, MIT professor and Roboat principal investigator. "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."

Professor Arjan van Timmeren, the scientific director of the AMS Institute, adds that Roboat will open up a world of possibilities. Further research could focus on Roboats cleaning up the canals or underwater robots capable of detecting diseases early on.

The Roboat research, while scheduled for Amsterdam, aims to serve as a reference for other urban areas worldwide. The first Roboat prototypes will hit the waters of Amsterdam next year, but no specific timeline is available at this point.

The maritime scene could substantially change in the years to come if autonomous shipping becomes a reality. In fact, autonomous ships are seen as the future of the industry, revolutionizing the segment and paving the way to a more robotized maritime future.

Rolls-Royce, for instance, already announced earlier this year that it plans to make remote and autonomous cargo vessels to automate navigation and operations.

Whether it involves cars or boats, it seems that autonomous is the future. For vehicles, Uber and Lyft see a future dominated by self-driving cars, possibly eliminating the need for car ownership by 2025. The transportation revolution may as well extend to the maritime industry, and autonomous boats may eventually take over human-operated ones as well.

Even so, things are still in the early stages at this point, so don't expect the final products to hit the market anytime soon.

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