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MIT designs dynamic bridge made of autonomous boats



Researchers at MIT, in collaboration with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute) have developed the concept of roundAround, the world’s first dynamic ‘bridge’ made of autonomous boats, or Roboats.
MIT designs bridge made of autonomous boats
(Image via MIT and AMS Institute).

The boats utilise cameras, lidar – a detection system that uses radar – and algorithms to operate without human operators and will connect the waterway between Marineterrein and the City Centre in Amsterdam. According to the team behind the concept, this dynamic ‘bridge’ (if it can really be called that) will seamlessly transport hundreds of people per hour across the water.
When not in use the autonomous electric Roboats will dock at special platforms to recharge
(Image via MIT and AMS Institute).

At present Amsterdam’s City Centre is separated from the popular NEMO Science Museum by a large waterway. Without a bridge across this canal, it takes more than 10 minutes to walk the almost one kilometre from one side to the other. MIT hope that their novel Roboats will be able to provide a quick solution – transporting passengers from one side to the other in less than two minutes. When not required, the electric Roboats will use the platforms installed on either side of the canal to recharge. These platforms also act as passenger on and off ramps allowing easier access from street level to the canal.
The roundAround bridge will be first trialled in Amsterdam
(Image via MIT and AMS Institute).

Should this initial trail prove successful, researchers hope the ‘dynamic bridge’ could be implemented in other parts of Amsterdam as well as other locations worldwide including Venice and Bangkok. It offers an ideal solution where waterways need to be traversed, yet capital is not available to construct a traditional bridge. The designers also see other potential uses for the Roboats such as garbage collection or cargo transport – activities which could ease congestion on busy city roads such as in Amsterdam- and once again reinvigorate urban waterways and provide them with a utilitarian purpose.
The Roboats which make the roundAround bridge concept will use lidar and other tech to navigate the waterway autonomously
(Image via MIT and AMS Institute).

Commenting on the concept’s initial trial in Amsterdam, AMS Institute head of research Stephan van Dijk, said:

“Bridging this waterway truly challenges urban engineers, as it’s an important fixed mast route for bigger boats. This makes it challenging to design an accessible bridge across this canal. With Roboat as a dynamic infrastructure we can potentially connect the two areas and use roundAround as a living lab to develop on-site experience on how autonomous boats behave on the Amsterdam canals.”
If the first trial of roundAround proves successful it could be rolled out to other cities with waterways such as Venice and Bangkok
(Image via MIT and AMS Institute).

Carlo Ratti, of MIT’s Senseable City Lab, sees the roundAround bridge trial as an important step in the development of Roboats:

“The Roboat units of roundAround will autonomously respond to and learn from the dynamics of this Amsterdam waterway. As they operate, the system will become increasingly more intelligent and well-equipped to be implemented in other parts of the city and other cities worldwide.”

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MIT designs dynamic bridge made of autonomous boats - Time to read 3 min
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