MIT and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) have recently signed an agreement to develop a fleet of autonomous robots that will operate in the city’s canals and be used to ferry people, deliver goods, transport waste, and deploy temporary floating infrastructures such as bridges.
Known as Roboats, the robots were designed to investigate how urban waterways can be utilized to improve a city’s function and quality of life. MIT’s Roboat project is a five-year endeavor to develop a unique logistics platform for both people and goods while gathering data about the city- including monitoring water quality, which can be used to predict public health, pollution, and environmental issues.
According to MIT CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) Director Daniela Rus, “Imagine shifting some of infrastructure services that usually take place during the day on the road — deliveries, garbage management, waste management — to the middle of the night, on the water, using a fleet of autonomous boats.”
The Roboats themselves were designed as a 4 x 2-meter rectangular platform, which is 3D-printed using 16 separate pieces that are spliced together and reinforced with fiberglass. Each is equipped with GPS, IMU sensor (for the boat’s attitude), an indoor ultrasound beacon for navigation, and four thrusters on the boat’s underside allow for precision navigation.
MIT developed an AI system that employs an efficient version of nonlinear model predictive control (NMPC) for autonomous control, which is also coupled with another AI platform that uses a predictive-control algorithm that determines upcoming actions in order to help navigate around obstacles.
The project is still under development, with MIT focusing on adaptive controllers to account for different mass adjustments and drag created by passengers and cargo. It’s expected that the first Roboats will be deployed on Amsterdam’s canals at some point next year, so it will be interesting to see how this autonomous system pans-out.