Each of the roboats, which are currently one-quarter scale prototypes, is equipped with LIDAR and a camera that can be used for autonomous navigation. The robotic vessels are able to cruise waterways without any direct control. When they reach their target — another roboat or a docking station — they can utilize a unique mechanism to latch on. That mechanism is similar to a ball-and-socket, with the ball on the roboat and the socket on the dock. Special tags are placed on the dock which the roboat’s computer vision can use to determine the exact location of the latch mechanism. The boat can then navigate precisely to connect. If it misses, it knows to back up and try again.
The roboats are versatile, and they could potentially provide many different kinds of services to the city of Amsterdam. For instance, they could be used to dock at specific stations to pick up trash, and then autonomously pilot themselves to a drop off location. Many roboats could connect together to form temporary floating platforms for events. They could even be used to create pop-up bridges for pedestrians. Because Amsterdam’s canals are so extensive, the roboats could reach many areas within the city. The roboats have already been successfully tested in pools and the Charles River, and the next step is to build full-size prototypes.