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Autonomous floating fleet to be tested on Amsterdam’s waterways

While set in Amsterdam, it is hoped the research could become a reference study for urban areas around the globe


Visualisation of Roboat. Picture courtesy MIT Senseable City Lab
Visualisation of Roboat. Picture courtesy MIT Senseable City Lab

First prototype Roboats will be seen in Amsterdam's waters in 2017

Five-year project will explore the range of possibilities of autonomous systems on water

Temporary floating infrastructure such as on-demand bridges and stages may form part of the research

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has teamed up with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions to develop and test a fleet of autonomous floating vessels.


Dubbed ‘Roboat’, the five-year research programme will explore the possibilities for autonomous systems on water which could encompass moving people, moving goods, dynamic infrastructure and environmental sensing.


The project will also involve researchers from Delft University of Technology (TUD) and Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and will be conducted on the canals of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The first prototype Roboats are expected to launch next year.


“Imagine a fleet of autonomous boats for the transportation of goods and people,” said Carlo Ratti, professor at MIT and principal investigator in the Roboat-program. “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.”


“Roboat offers enormous possibilities as we’ll also be exploring environmental sensing,” added professor Arjan van Timmeren, AMS Institute’s scientific director. “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.”


It is hoped that while the research, with a €25m budget, is set in Amsterdam it will become a reference study for many urban areas around the globe. “It is a fantastic opportunity for Amsterdam,” said Kajsa Ollongren, the city’s alderman and vice mayor. “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.”


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