AMS Towards possible use cases for Roboat in Amsterdam

On September 1st 2017, AMS Institute and MIT co-hosted a workshop to mark the end of the first year of the Roboat project. The purpose of this event was to build connections with members of the Amsterdam academic and industry communities, continue conversations and collaborations between the research teams, and to share the progress of the project with various stakeholders from academia, industry, and the public sector.

The morning began with an introduction by Arjan van Timmeren, Director of AMS Institute, followed by an update from each of the four MIT Principal Investigators (PI). Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab, framed the work of the last year in relation to the overall goals of the Roboat project: to create a dynamic new infrastructure for the City of Amsterdam while tackling the novel problem of autonomy in urban waters. Director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, Daniela Rus introduced the core research questions the Robotics team are tackling, including designing a control system, multi-vessel coordination, and mechanisms to latch multiple autonomous boats together. Andrew Whittle, the Edmund K. Turner Professor in Civil Engineering, explained the (currently ongoing) tests his team, in collaboration with Waternet, are doing in the waters of Amsterdam to determine baseline readings for water quality in the city. Associate Dean of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Dennis Frenchman highlighted how the Roboat project can bring both vitality and utility back to the canals, giving an overview of the use cases discussed during the workshop.

©MIT Senseable City Lab

Following the introductions and updates, the first session of the morning was comprised of a series of roundtables focused on possible use cases for the Roboat system. Over the past six months, the MIT urban design team led by PI Frenchman has developed design solutions for three areas of life in Amsterdam: waste, food, and transportation. Each of these three areas, as well as environmental sensing, were the subject of a roundtable. At the four tables MIT researchers presented analysis and design work with an eye to spark discussion amongst the different stakeholders and potential collaborators present.

The Waste table focused on how to use autonomous, water-based, trash collection to alleviate the problems currently seen in the center of Amsterdam with the accumulation of rubbish on the streets and the noise pollution and congestion caused by truck collection. At the Food table, MIT researchers proposed a system of floating markets that could supplement the robust network of markets already present in Amsterdam, highlighting the potential to tap into the greater region’s food production, while also discussing the possibility for water-based distribution to cafes, restaurants, and bars. The Transport table presented how autonomous water taxis might help reduce congestion for both commuters and tourists.

©MIT Senseable City Lab

During the second session, the Boat Design and Robotics team led by PIs Carlo Ratti and Daniela Rus, provided specific updates on their progress in their three main lines of inquiry: boat configuration, latching mechanism, and autonomy building. The discussion afterwards, moderated by Director van Timmeren and PI Rus, highlighted the potential for collaboration with researchers also working on water-based autonomy.

Also Alderperson Pieter Litjens, joined the session. He shows much interest in the and is very keen on further developing the program.

For MIT researchers, the day ended with a brief canal tour, which drove home the immense potential of a system of autonomous floating platforms could have in the City of Amsterdam.

For photo’s of the prototype latching and docking skills test at the Waternet, check our Facebook