Self-driving boats are coming to Amsterdam

Autoboats: Roll Out

The canals of Amsterdam are famous for both their extent and their beauty. Home to more than 2,500 houseboats, they stretch more than 50 kilometres, and were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010.

And in 2017 they'll enjoy another claim to fame: becoming home to the first prototypes of self-driving 'roboats'. MIT and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) have partnered to build autonomous ships that will move people and goods around the city.

"While the first prototypes of self-driving cars are taking to the road, Amsterdam ushers in a new chapter in the international push for autonomous vehicles," the AMS said in a statement.

Enormous possibilities

In addition to transporting people and goods, The roboats could solve all sorts of problems for the city: stacking together to form bridges to alleviate overcrowding during events, and even helping to detect water-borne diseases at an early stage.

"Or we can use Roboats to rid the canals of floating waste and find a more efficient way to handle the 12,000 bicycles that end up in there every year," said AMS scientific director Arjan van Timmeren. "Roboat offers enormous possibilities."

The first versions will take to the water in 2017, though it's unclear at this stage exactly what form they'll take. MIT has donated 20 million euros to the research.

"It is a fantastic opportunity for Amsterdam," added the city's alderman and vice-mayor Kajsa Ollongren.

"To have the world's most prominent scientists work on solutions with autonomous boats in this way is unprecedented, and most fitting for a city where water and technology have been linked for ages."

  • Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.