MIT-developed self-driving roboats set sail on Amsterdam canals

If you don’t feel seasick, a self-driving boat might be the best means of transportation for you.

Scientists from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Senseable City Laboratory, in collaboration with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute) in the Netherlands, have completed the third and final project in their self-navigating trilogy: a full-scale, fully autonomous robotic boat that can be deployed along Amsterdam’s canals.

Since the crew began developing miniature vessels in the MIT pool in late 2015, “Roboat” has gone a long way.

Last year, the researchers unveiled a 2 meter long half-scale medium model that displayed impressive navigational abilities.

Two full-scale Roboats were launched this year, showing that they can carry up to five people, collect rubbish, distribute commodities, and offer on-demand infrastructure.

The boat is futuristic in appearance, with a sleek black and gray color scheme, two seats facing each other, and orange block letters on the sides illustrating the designers’ namesakes. It’s a totally electric boat with a battery the size of a small chest that can run for up to 10 hours and can be charged wirelessly. “We now have higher precision and robustness in the perception, navigation, and control systems, including new functions like close-proximity approach mode for latching capabilities and improved dynamic positioning,” says Daniela Rus, MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of CSAIL. “The control mechanism of the Robotoat adapts to the amount of persons on board.”

Roboat requires a painstaking combination of accurate navigation, perception, and control software to traverse the busy waterways of Amsterdam quickly. The boat determines a safe course from point A to point B using GPS, while continually monitoring the surroundings to prevent collisions with obstacles like as bridges, pillars, and other boats.