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Self-driving boats to be tested next year

September 28, 2016

Amsterdam CanalIn Amsterdam the future is moving away from autonomous cars and onto self-driving boats. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Delft University of Technology and Wageningen University and Research have been working in collaboration to develop the straightforward named program, Roboats. With $28 million of funding, the first prototypes are due to be on the Amsterdam canals by 2017.

The latest provisional renderings illustrate the Roboats as far from elegant. The multi-purpose boats aren’t designed for speed, but more to move quayside along the canals. The flat, rectangular structures are planned to be used for many different purposes, including temporary bridges plus public and goods transportation along busy stretches of urban water.

With the demand for this new technology becoming more apparent with the ever-rising sea levels, it’s not surprising that one of the most vulnerable cities in the US is on-board. In Boston, the rising tides have been putting pressure on the city’s defences. Architects have suggested converting some of the streets into canals to relieve the strain. Self-driving boats could be a solution, creating easy walkways and transportation links if the new channel is to be created.

Additional research is being conducted to explore the creation of data-gathering Roboats. Building upon work already established by the MIT Underworlds Initiative, sensors are being developed to put on the Roboats. These floating sensors are aiming to be able to record the air and water quality of the surrounding areas, including inside existing sewer systems. Eventually developers of Roboats want them to be able to predict future public health issues before they have a chance to spread.

These Roboats can also be an innovative quick fix to public events. Assembling in a few hours the pontoon-like features can extend along the channel at times when crowds are expected. Roboats could create temporary architectural structures for festivals, concerts and any other busy periods.

If successful in their prototype launch next year, Roboats could become a permanent feature on our canals. With beneficial effects of a cleaner transport of goods and a reduction in the amount of the diesel guzzling, emission emitting delivery vehicles throughout the surrounding areas; currently causing congestion and polluting the air. It all seems very exciting to know self-driving boats are on their way.

Just think in the new future Roboats could become so common on our urban waterways that you won’t even notice them as they go by!

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