November 2021 sees the start of a whole new and innovative mobility offer in Amsterdam. Two autonomous boats, or 'roboats', will start navigating the busy canals of the city, carrying, amongst others things, passengers and waste collected from the city. The self-steering roboats should help relieve Amsterdam's city centre of traffic over the quays and bridges.
Roboat is a research project of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute). After five years of research, the project is now ready for the next steps towards pilots and commercialization. Three use cases are now being tested in the bustling conditions of the Amsterdam canals: passenger transport, logistics (waste collection) and surveying water infrastructure and monitoring water quality.
Navigating in such dynamic conditions is a challenge, especially for a self-steering vessel. The navigation requirements cannot be compared to that for most autonomous shipping known today, which focuses on more straightforward trajectories.
Ynse Hendrik Deinema, Roboat Project Lead at AMS Institute, stated in a press release: “Picture being amid the hustle and bustle on the Amsterdam canals – this urban context involves tight space manoeuvring, including high complexity and not a lot of structure, caused by a great variety of obstacles that can be encountered. To navigate the bustling waters of Amsterdam, roboat needs a meticulous fusion of proper navigation, perception, and control software.”
The roboat is equipped with sensors, lasers, navigation and cameras. This allows the boat to scan the canals, avoid obstacles and determine the most ideal route. When a roboat encounters an object in the water, the boat determines whether it is stationary or moving, and measures its distance from the object. The boat then calculates the best manoeuvre to avoid the obstacle. In addition, roboat is self-learning and adapts its abilities based on experiences on the water. Every time the vessel navigates the area, it gains experiences and learns from previous situations and object encounters.
With full-scale boats now sailing in Amsterdam, Roboat is more than a proof of concept. Still, developers say they still need two-to-four years to perfect the self-steering technology after which the next step would be to commercialise the technology - ‘One autonomous taxi, please’.
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Photo Credits: Pietro Leoni © MIT AMS Institute