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In 2016, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) signed an agreement for a research collaboration for the development of an autonomous boat fleet for Amsterdam’s canals. The study has a €25 million funding from MIT (€20 million) and the AMS Institute (€5 million).

The Roboat

The AMS will also have additional public and private partners to study other aspects of the research, including urban challenges like water, food, waste, energy, data and mobility. MIT will also bring along the Delft University of Technology and Wageningen University and Research Centre for the opportunity to use Amsterdam as a laboratory and test bed.

The group’s first bold move is Roboat which aims to develop autonomous boats or “roboats”. The project will study the use of urban waterways to improve Amsterdam’s functions and quality of life. This project is different from a project of the same name which uses autonomous sailboats for marine surveying. The current Roboat project will include research on using the city’s canals for transportation, support, clean up, and for interim uses like platforms and bridges. Making use of Roboats as a logistics platform to transport people and goods as well as other uses, provide a dynamic infrastructure to extend the functionality of the canals.

Amsterdam is ideal for the project because 25% of it is water.The canal system was once a primary transport system. Today it’s a tourist attraction and is used by residents for recreation. The canals, rivers, docks and bridges of the system presents an opportunity as a living laboratory for solving issues regarding mobility, transportation and water quality.

Data Monitoring for Other Uses

The water quality is a key element of the study. The Roboats can provide a monitoring platform for data collection of environmental sensing equipment. The data can help assess and predict various issues regarding pollution, public health and the environment. A network of Roboats offer possibilities for real-time reading of environmental factors, as well as serve as a monitor for the city’s bicycles and in cleaning up Amsterdam’s floating wastes.

The Roboats testing happens this 2018. The initial testing and evaluation will last five years.

There are other companies developing water-based autonomous transport vehicles. Sea Machine Robotics of Boston is also working on autonomous ship technology using sensors and self-navigating software for an experimental workboat. At the same time Rolls-Royce is working on a semi-autonomous tugboat in Copenhagen which can be remotely controlled. YARA International, a fertilizer firm based in Norway is working on an electric powered autonomous container ship. Kongsberg will supply the integrated sensor, controls, communication and electrical systems. Called the YARA Birkeland, the pilot ship will launch in 2018. The project will be in stages, and in 2019, it will be remotely controlled, with full autonomy in 2020. The YARA Birkeland will replace truck hauling for the company. Using the ship, the company will save 40,000 trips via diesel powered trucks.