The famous Amsterdam Canals—a UNESCO heritage and known for its scenic views—are still marred by curbside trash. By bringing back the original purpose of the canals—access to the inner city for transport and collection of goods—the city’s water-rich infrastructure can be used to innovatively and efficiently manage the collection of household waste by using autonomous boats.

This animation illustrates how the concept of Waste Streams works.

Waste collection is one of the most critical public services in every city to keep cities livable. Every year the city of Amsterdam, with almost 900,000 inhabitants, generates more than 300,000 tons of waste. In most neighborhoods in the city there are underground containers and collection bins. However, the reality in the city center is different. The centuries-old quays of the characteristic canals are not developed for underground containers. Today most residents that live in historic center still need to bring their waste in trash bags to the sidewalks, which are collected by garbage trucks twice a week.

Curbside trash is not only distorting to the scenic views on the canals, but also takes up a lot of space and attracts rodents. The needed garbage truck collection of household waste brings additional problems to the city: the trucks create heavy load movements in the already busy city center and, due to their weight, damage the fragile quays and the underneath wooden structure of the canals and nearby houses.

The concept of Waste Streams is one of the use cases that is currently being explored within the Roboat research project, a five-year project to develop a fleet of autonomous boats for the city of Amsterdam. Waste Streams combines autonomous boats with floating dumpsters: the autonomous boats bring floating dumpsters to specific locations, and return to collect them when they are full.

“One of the main goals of Roboat is to reimagine urban infrastructures. Waste Streams shows that even very traditional and unglamorous urban services, such as waste collection, can be reimagined when we bring design and technology together to think of a better future for cities.”

Carlo Ratti

Professor at MIT Senseable City Lab & AMS PI

Waste Streams brings several benefits to the city. Besides removing the trash bags from the sidewalks and the garbage trucks from the streets, the use of Roboat could bring economic benefits: based on the number of residents, the city would need to install 283 underground containers to serve this community; with the responsive system proposed in Waste Streams, only 48 floating containers are needed to cover all pick-up points defined for the inner city. With a responsive system Roboat can optimize pick-up times, optimizing the overall efficiency of the inner city waste collection, including energy savings on unnecessary movements.

“During the 20th century, Amsterdam, as many cities across Europe, abandoned the use of its canals, moving most urban services to the streets. The increased traffic and pollution influence the quality of living for its residents. Roboat gives a unique opportunity to use cutting-edge technologies to regain the Amsterdam urban waterways in innovative ways”

Stephan van Dijk

Director of Innovation

Waste Streams

Design Garbage Module (closed)

Waste Streams

Design Garbage Module (open)

Waste Streams proposes two complementary systems: one for household waste collection, and another specifically designed for hotels. Next to exploring the use case for waste collection in the inner city, the concept also introduces the envisioned design. This design takes lessons from other use cases such as transportation and on-demand bridges to improve the overall effectiveness of the Roboat platform. The project hopes to soon pilot the concept of Waste Streams in Amsterdam.


Roboat Year 3 results

Smart Urban Mobility

In its third year of research the Roboat research team has improved technical and functional capabilities.


roundAround: an autonomous 'bridge'

Smart Urban Mobility

Keeping the center of Amsterdam connected to other areas that are rapidly (re)developing can be a challenge. Could a fleet of autonomous boats bridge the waterway between Marineterrein Amsterdam and the Amsterdam City Center?



Smart Urban Mobility

Amsterdam gets world’s first fleet of autonomous boats.

To learn more about the concept of Waste Streams and the proposed design, please visit the Waste Streams website.

For Roboat press inquiries