Forget Self-Driving Cars: Amsterdam Is Getting ‘Roboats’

September 19, 2016, 1:50 PM UTC
Roboats in Amsterdam
Roboats in Amsterdam
AMS Institute / MIT Senseable City Lab

Ready to start your week with a fun new word? Here you go: Amsterdam is set to the launch the world’s first fleet of autonomous boats, or “roboats” if you will, through a five-year research project.

To be fair, the term has been used before for an autonomous sailboat used in marine surveying. But Amsterdam’s new Roboat program is more equivalent to what Google (GOOG) and Uber are doing with cars on streets—and a whole lot more.

Amsterdam is, after all, laced with canals, making it the ideal testbed for the world’s first major research program involving autonomous, metropolitan water transport.

But this isn’t just transport. These Roboats are platforms that should be able to join together to form temporary bridges or extend the shore at times of peak demand, such as during rush hour or during a festival. They may even work as “pop-up stages” in the middle of the water.

The program was announced on Monday by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute), Delft University of Technology (TUD), and Wageningen University and Research (WUR).

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It has €25 million ($28 million) in funding—€20 million from MIT and €5 million from the AMS Institute.

For more on autonomous vehicles, watch:

“Imagine a fleet of autonomous boats for the transportation of goods and people, but 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.

The first Roboats will hit Amsterdam’s canals next year. Apart from their capacity for supporting people, they might also be useful for collecting environmental information about water and air quality, and for helping to clear the canals of junk (such as the 12,000 bicycles that apparently end up in Amsterdam’s canals each year).

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