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The Roboat is not only impressive in capacities, but also in style, Source: © MIT & AMS Institute

Robot boats will soon be riding on Amsterdam's canals

Robot boats will soon be riding on Amsterdam's canals

Self-driving pilot of Roboat begins in November

Two self-driving robot boats will circulate Amsterdam canals in November, carrying passengers, goods or waste. As part of a five-year-long research project, the action will try to define if this type of solution can alleviate road traffic by deferring part of it on water. A task that is particularly important for Amsterdam, with a quarter of its territory occupied by water.

Re-imagining Amsterdam canals

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute), in partnership with the City of Amsterdam, announced yesterday that they were ready to put self-driving pilots of a roboat on the canals of the Dutch capital. This is thanks to the considerable advance in a research project that the institutions have been conducting together.

After five years of research and development, they are ready to present two-full scale pilot robot boats and move further with their commercialization. Thus, from November, they will test the robot boats for three purposes: passenger transport, logistics for the needs of waste collection, and surveying water infrastructure and monitoring water quality.

In the past year, researchers from the two institutions have particularly focused on developing the autonomy of the vessels, in particular, developing their capacities for way-point finding, docking and undocking and collision avoidance without human intervention.

The robot boat can do much more than simply perform tasks alone. Ynse Deinema, Roboat Project Lead at AMS Institute quoted in a press release said that “Every time the vessel navigates the area [the inner harbour of Marineterrein Amsterdam Living Lab, where the tests are being conducted], it gains experiences and learns from previous situations and object encounters. As a result of the continuous feedback loops, Roboat can now autonomously navigate in this area”.

To do this, Roboat uses LIDAR and cameras to enable a 360-degree view. This is also referred to as the “perception kit” and lets Roboat understand its surroundings.

Other than self-learning, Roboat is being trained in object recognition and could soon outperform human vision: when the perception picks up a new object, the algorithm flags the item as an "unknown". When the team later looks at the collected data from the day, the object is manually selected and tagged.

The next step for Roboat is to commercialize the technology. "The historic centre of Amsterdam with its network of canals and modern-day challenges - such as congestion and logistics - is a perfect place to start the real-life pilots aimed at creating more sustainable and smart transport over water,” explained Stephan van Dijk, Director of Innovation at AMS Institute.

The team collaborates with pioneering companies and cities to further scale up the technology. “Whereas autonomous shipping focuses on more straightforward trajectories, Roboat is designed to navigate dynamic and busy urban waterways, such as the Amsterdam canals. Which makes Roboat relevant for delta cities and harbour areas worldwide. It also creates new possibilities for flexible urban infrastructures. Combined with its ability to perform its tasks 24/7, Roboat can add great value for a city,” van Dijk concluded.

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