Amsterdam Tests World’s First Robot Boat

We have autonomous cars, so why not self-driving boats. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in collaboration with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, together with teams from Delft and Wageningen universities will host a major new trial of autonomous boats – Roboats! Versions of the Robot Boats has hit the Dutch capital’s canals some time ago.


Roboat Automous Vessel

The total budget for the 5 year Roboat research project, which will be based in Amsterdam, is €25 million. The project hopes to ultimately develop a fleet of captainless boats that can be used for transportation of goods and people. Further research is being directed toward developing underwater robots as well as Roboats to rid the Amsterdam canals of floating waste and providing a more efficient way to handle the more than 12,000 bicycles that end up in the city’s canals each year.

Easing congested waterways

The project is exciting but we shouldn’t expect a streamlined fleet of pleasure craft. Early renderings depict Roboats as a convoy of flat, rectangular, pontoon-like structures, more like moving wharfs. If the trials are successful, the Roboats could nonetheless provide an efficient and environmental friendly means of delivering goods, transit and leisure along what remain some of the busiest stretches of urban water in the world. Beyond reducing urban congestion, automated boats would theoretically reduce the frequency of collisions once human error is removed.

Future applications

During the five-year trial project, Roboats will also act as information-gatherers, floating sensors recording information on air and water quality. It’s quite possible at some point in the future even detect waterborne diseases cutting off an outbreak before it has a chance to hit the population.

The first prototypes of Roboat were tested on the Amsterdam canals in 2017.