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Look, No Captain!

A large-scale research effort is testing autonomous boats for transporting goods and people.


By land or by sea, self-driving vehicles—and vessels—will soon be a common way to catch a ride. While autonomous cars are no longer “big news,” the concept of driverless boats on commuter canals is now launching into our consumer consciousness.

According to an article in Computerworld, autonomous boats are readying to set sail on the Amsterdam waterways. The project, called Roboat, is a collaboration between MIT, the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute) and two Dutch universities, Delft University of Technology and Wageningen University and Research. Together, the team is creating a small fleet of self-driving boats that will provide rides to commuters.

But the $27 million project is not just about building autonomous boats for transporting people and products. “Also think of dynamic and temporary floating infrastructure, like on-demand bridges and stages that can be assembled or disassembled in a matter of hours,” said MIT professor Carlo Ratti in a statement.

In addition, the five-year project will be exploring environmental sensing as a way to research underwater robots that can detect diseases at an early stage, or use Roboats to rid the canals from floating waste.

This project follows the Rolls-Royce vision of unmanned vessels roaming the open ocean by the end of the decade to transform the maritime shipping industry. Other companies, such as Boston-based Sea Machines,  are building autonomous control and navigation systems for the commercial marine industry.

The purpose is to create a safer environment for the crew and passengers. But will you welcome the water robots?

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