Amsterdam is a city that is crisscrossed with canals and garbage in those waterways is a big problem. The canals are also underutilized for relieving congestion from nearby roadways. To combat the issue, Amsterdam has a vision of a fleet of autonomous boats that can cruise its canals to not only pick up trash but to transport goods and people. MIT researchers are working to make Amsterdam’s vision come true.
MIT has designed a fleet of robotic boats that are dubbed Roboats that can target and clasp onto each other. If they fail to clasp on the first time, the Roboats will continue trying. Roboats are autonomous boats with rectangular hulls that are equipped with sensors, thrusters, microcontrollers, GPS modules, cameras, and other hardware.
The project has several objectives, and one of them is to provide on-demand transportation on waterways. Another objective of the project is to allow the Roboats to serve as pop-up locations able to bind themselves together to form footbridges, performance stages, or food markets as needed. When the need is over, the Roboats could disassemble and move on.
The Roboat units could also be used as sensors to capture data on city infrastructure, air and water quality, and other data. The autonomous boats have latch mechanisms that include a ball and socket on the front, back, and sides. The socket is a funnel that has a laser beam inside that detects when the ball crosses into the receptor, activating the three arms that close around and captures the ball. The boat then sends a signal to both Roboats, letting them know the connection is complete.
MIT researchers are currently designing Roboat units that are about four times the size of the current units that will be more stable on the water. The team is also working on improving the funnel system to give the Roboats more control when towing platforms or other Roboats through canals.