Lonely Planet Writer

Amsterdam to trial self-sailing boats on the city’s canals

In what will be a world first, the Netherlands is set to trial autonomous boats called Roboats on Amsterdam’s canals from 2017.

The iconic canals in Amsterdam.
The iconic canals in Amsterdam. Image by Joan Campderrós-i-Canas / CC BY 2.0

The pilot scheme will bring together some of the best minds from the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the hope that driver-less boats could become a thing of the future. With a budget of €25 million, researchers on the five-year programme are optimistic that autonomous vehicles could be used to transport people and goods, as well as creating temporary floating structures like stages or bridges.

Speaking about the trial, Professor Arjan van Timmeren, Scientific Director at the AMS Institute, said: “Roboat offers enormous possibilities as we’ll also be exploring environmental sensing. We could for instance do further research on underwater robots that can detect diseases at an early stage or use Roboats to rid the canals from floating waste and find a more efficient way to handle the 12,000 bicycles that end up in the city’s canals each year.” The news comes fresh on the heels of driver-less buses being tested in Lyon, France. As with that pilot scheme, it is hoped that this Amsterdam trial can be used as a case study for other cities around the world.

With over 100km of canals, Amsterdam is made up of nearly 25% water, making it a good location to trial these tests. Commenting on the news, the city’s vice mayor Kajsa Ollongren said: “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.” Besides moving goods and people, the Roboat team hope to use the vehicles to gather environmental data like water and air quality. They will also attempt to discover efficient ways of cleaning the canal and try to detect diseases spreading across the city.