Autonomous Boats Coming To Amsterdam

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Katie Couric may have been widely mocked last winter when she said "skating is an important mode of transportation in a city like Amsterdam," but she was right that this 15th century Dutch city takes advantage of its network of canals. Amsterdam has now unveiled plans to use autonomous boats, called Roboats, to deliver people and goods around the historic city.

With 850,000 residents living in its city center, and 2.5 million people in the metropolitan area, Amsterdam is heavily congested. The Netherland’s largest city also receives 3.5 million visitors per year. Amsterdam’s canal system was designed in the 15th century and consists of 90 islands that are connected with 1,500 bridges. Water makes up almost 25 percent of its surface area and with more than 60 miles of canals the Roboats could perform a lot of roles.

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The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) has teamed up with researchers from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Senseable City Lab and two Dutch universities to develop a fleet of Roboats that can transport people around the city by simply using an Uber-style app, deliver packages and other goods, assemble floating bridges in a matter of hours, construct floating stages for art performances, test water quality, pick up floating waste, and possibly retrieve the 12,000 bicycles that annually make their way into its canals.

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Miniature prototypes were tested on the city's canals in 2016. Quarter-scale Roboats were built with 3D printing technology and will be tested in October. The city hopes to have full-scale operational Roboats roaming its canals in three to four years. The city of Amsterdam, the city of Boston and a Dutch water utility company have already provided 25 million euros in funding and the goal is to bring the technology to other urban areas. 

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