The Dutch capital Amsterdam is starting to test driverless electric boats on the canals in a trial to explore their potential for tasks such as carrying passengers – easing traffic on the crowded streets – and collecting waste.
Amsterdam’s 100 km of waterways will be home to prototypes of fully autonomous electric boats.
They are being deployed as part of an effort to develop new ways to navigate waterways without human supervision, led by MIT and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions.
Stephan van Dijk, director of innovation at the Amsterdam Institute, told the Associated Press that the technology is “very relevant in very complex port operations, where you have a lot of ships and a lot of ships and a lot of quays and piers.
There you can really improve safety with autonomous systems, but also make it more efficient and convert it into a 24/7 operations approach.
” In a recent demonstration, a 4-meter electric boat glided past a full-size replica of the Dutch East India Company’s eighteenth-century three-masted merchant ship, the Amsterdam, which resides in front of the Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum – a striking representation of the past and the future of the city.
The ‘Roboats’ have orange propellers and four bow thrusters powered by an electric battery. They can reach a top speed of about 6.5 km/h and operate for 12-24 hours depending on the battery type and charge.
They are also modular, meaning they can be adapted for different purposes, such as transporting cargo or people. In the upcoming trial, the Roboats will be trained to maneuver through traffic in Amsterdam’s canals, a busy area filled with private boats and tourist tours, including stationary and moving obstacles.
The boats are controlled remotely by a computer, which uses data collected by cameras and other sensors mounted on the ships to detect objects. According to the researchers involved in the project, it will take them two to four years to perfect the autonomous steering technology.
“It’s mainly because we want to be absolutely sure that we can safely navigate the canals,” says Rens Doornbusch, mechatronics engineer and enthusiast of autonomous technology.
“At the moment we have the autonomy, but one of the next steps is to make sure that we can handle any situation we may encounter in the canals.”
Before the Roboats can be fully deployed in Amsterdam, the team must also take into account non-technical matters, such as legislation and privacy considerations. Van Dijk:
“We are actively working with the ministries and legislators to determine which specific legal aspects need to be changed in order to operate fully autonomously.
” The use of data by the Roboat system has been developed in such a way that “we do not identify persons walking on the road. So in that sense, privacy is guaranteed,” he added.
Last year, the UK’s first electric sea-going ferry, using recycled batteries from the Nissan Leaf electric car, was tested in the waters off Portsmouth.
After the tests, Plymouth will get a much larger all-electric 150-passenger ferry to connect the city with Cornwall.