Soon visitors to Amsterdam may spot a self-driving watercraft the size of a small car cruising silently through its ancient canals, ferrying passengers or transporting goods or trash.
It’s the electric-powered “Roboat”, a catchier name than “autonomous floating vehicle” for a project that believes it can transform use of the city’s waterways for the better.
“We have a lot of road traffic and congestion, e-commerce, logistics cluttering the small streets in the city,” said Stephan van Dijk, Innovation Director at Amsterdam’s Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, which is designing and engineering Roboat with The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“At the same time we have a lot of open water available in the canals… So we developed a self-driving, autonomous ship to help with logistics in the city and also bringing people around.”
After four years of trials with smaller versions and refinements of the concept, the makers showed off the first two full-size, functional Roboats on Wednesday.
One of the first test applications of the craft will be for an unglamorous but important job: trash collection.
Dump trucks on the city’s narrow streets are a safety hazard and cause traffic congestion. Instead, Roboats stationed at the waterside will act as floating trash containers, scooting back to base when they’re full.
The city, which is backing the project, is considering locations for a trash collection pilot project starting early next year, Van Dijk said.
It is not yet permissioned to enter the city’s normal water traffic with passengers. But longer term, the medium size and slightly boxy chassis of the 1,200 kg (2,645 lb) craft can be used for passenger, trash and transport models, and it was developed so that Roboats can link together.
Linking Roboats will open the door to more one-off uses, Van Dijk said, such as creating a floating concert platform, a temporary bridge, forming a barge, or, in sea-faring versions, to form a circle of Roboats to help contain an oil spill.
(Production: Piroschka Van De Wouw, Johnny Cotton, Clement Rossignol)