Amsterdam is testing autonomous boats on its famous canal system

Typically when we talk about autonomous vehicles, we're talking about autonomous cars. However, there are other types of autonomous vehicles, including autonomous aircraft and autonomous boats. Amsterdam is famous for many things, one of them is its canal system and the water taxis that take people all around the city.

Currently, Amsterdam is testing autonomous boats that run electric power on the many canals running through the city. Amsterdam has more than 60 miles of waterways that host all types of ships and watercraft. The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions and MIT are collaborating on the Roboat project to develop new ways of navigating waterways without a human controlling the craft.

Officials in Amsterdam say the technology is very relevant and highly complex port operations where there are many vessels and ships and a lot of quays and peers. Stephan van Dijk says the technology can improve safety using autonomous systems and make it more efficient with a 24/7 operation approach.

A recent demonstration used a 13-foot-long electric boat. The ship has to learn to maneuver through traffic operating in the canal system around Amsterdam. The canal system is full of private boats and canal cruising ships for tourists. Roboats use orange propellers along with a quartet of thrusters powered by a battery.

They have a top speed of about four mph and can operate for 12 to 24 hours, depending on the type of battery used and their cargo load. A computer steers the small watercraft remotely using data processed from cameras and sensors scanning the areas around the vessel. Those cameras and sensors can detect both stationary and moving objects. The vessels can also be adapted thanks to a modular design for different uses, including carrying cargo or workers. The developers working on the system say it needs another 2 to 4 years before it is perfected.