Innovation That Matters

Autonomous boats provide temporary urban infrastructure


MIT research partnership investigates the potential of data-gathering floating structures that assemble and disassemble autonomously to transport goods and service urban inhabitants.

Self-driving cars are not a new idea, and Springwise has covered a number of innovations in the area, most recently the launch of a fleet of self-driving taxis in Singapore. We have also seen architectural projects focussing on modular canal boats designed to meet various needs such as this Dutch design. Offering an innovation somewhere between the two, Roboats are autonomous, floating, temporary structures.

Born from a research collaboration between the Dutch Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ‘Roboats’ will aim to transport people and goods within the urban environment, to create temporary, on-demand structures (such as bridges or stages) whilst, simultaneously, gathering environmental data. With a budget of EUR 25 million, the project is the first research program into the new technology. The aim is to gather data on how waterways can be used to improve the city’s efficiency and quality of life for residents. So, for example, the boats will be equipped with sensors enabling them to detect pollution and disease in the water. Carlo Ratti, Professor at MIT and principal investigator in the Roboats program, explains the aim is to create, “a dynamic and temporary floating infrastructure…that can be assembled or disassembled in a matter of hours.”

Amsterdam has been chosen as the location to conduct the research because nearly a quarter of the city is taken up by its waterways. The first prototypes will be released in 2017. With floating student accommodation and buoyant prenuptial houses, could under-utilized urban waterways be the next frontier for infrastructure design?



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