City of Canals Tests Autonomous Boats

Steering is handled by a remote computer using cameras and sensors
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 3, 2021 6:30 PM CDT
City of Canals Tests Autonomous Boats
An electric boat is lowered into the water outside a workshop in Amsterdam.   (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Electric cars, meet your competition. Electric boats are on the way. Amsterdam didn't have to look very far when searching for a way to ease traffic on its congested streets. The Dutch capital's canals were used for transport long before cars and trucks powered by polluting internal combustion engines began clogging its narrow roads. Already steeped in maritime history, the city's more than 60 miles of waterways are to start hosting prototypes of futuristic boats—small, fully autonomous electric vessels—to carry out tasks including transporting passengers and picking up garbage. The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are collaborating on the Roboat project that aims to develop new ways of navigating waterways without a human hand at the wheel, the AP reports.

Stephan van Dijk of the Amsterdam institute said the technology is "very relevant in highly complex port operations, where you have a lot of vessels and a lot of ships and a lot of quays and piers. There you can really improve the safety with autonomous systems, but also make it more efficient and into a 24/7 operations approach." At a demonstration, one 13-foot-long electric boat sailed past a full-size replica of the 18th-century, three-mast trading ship Amsterdam, providing a snapshot of the city's nautical past and future. Next, it has to learn to negotiate traffic in the canals. The Roboats have propellers and four thrusters that are powered by an electric battery. They can go about 4mph and run for 12-24 hours. Steering is remote, by a computer that processes data from cameras and sensors that scan the areas around the vessel, detecting stationary and moving objects. Developers say they need two to four years to perfect the self-steering technology.

(More Amsterdam stories.)

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