Industrial Electronics

Video: MIT’s full-scale autonomous boat debuts in Amsterdam

29 October 2021

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has created their final project for self-navigating on water with a full-scale, fully autonomous robotic boat that will be deployed along the canals of Amsterdam.

Late last year, MIT CSAIL unveiled a paddleboat-sized version of the Roboat, which was at the time said to be a half-scale version of the autonomous boat.

The full-scale Roboat comes after the project first started in late 2015, having gone through many iterations before reaching this point. Two full-scale Roboats launched in Amsterdam could carry up to five people, collect waste, deliver goods or provide on-demand infrastructure.

The boat includes two seats that face each other and it is fully electrical with a battery about the size of a small chest, enabling about 10 hours of operation and wireless charging capabilities.

“We now have higher precision and robustness in the perception, navigation, and control systems, including new functions, such as close-proximity approach mode for latching capabilities, and improved dynamic positioning, so the boat can navigate real-world waters,” said Daniela Rus, MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of CSAIL. “Roboat’s control system is adaptive to the number of people in the boat.”

Using GPS, the Roboat autonomously decides the safest route from different points in the canals while continuously scanning the environment to avoid collisions with objects such as bridges, pillars and other boats.

Perception kit

Inside the Roboat is lidar and several cameras that enable a 360° view. A bundle of sensors called a perception kit allows the boat to understand its surroundings and perception picks up an unseen object such as a canoe and algorithms flag the item as “unknown” and then the team can later manually select and tag the objects by name.

Small cameras on the boat guide it to the docking station or other boats and then detect specific QR codes, allowing it to connect to other boats to form temporary bridges to alleviate traffic or floating stages and squares.

The universal hull design contains part of the boat that rides both in and on top of the water and it allows for top decks to be switched out depending on the use case.

“As Roboat can perform its tasks 24/7, and without a skipper on board, it adds great value for a city,” said Fabio Duarte, lead scientist on the project and principal research scientist in DUSP. “However, for safety reasons it is questionable if reaching level A autonomy is desirable. Just like a bridge keeper, an onshore operator will monitor Roboat remotely from a control center. One operator can monitor over 50 Roboat units, ensuring smooth operations.”

The next step for Roboat is to pilot the technology in the public domain. "The historic center of Amsterdam is the perfect place to start, with its capillary network of canals suffering from contemporary challenges, such as mobility and logistics,” said Stephan van Dijk, director of innovation at AMS Institute.

To contact the author of this article, email PBrown@globalspec.com


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