the world’s first dynamic ‘bridge’ made of autonomous boats

The MIT Senseable City Lab as Designers

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 Roboat units. roundAround will connect the waterway between Marineterrein Amsterdam and the City Center of Amsterdam, seamlessly transporting hundreds of people per hour across the water while pushing the boundaries of technology and design.


A waterway separates the Amsterdam City Center – highlighted by the NEMO Science Museum - from Marineterrein Amsterdam, an area in full swing of development. Without a bridge across the canal, it takes more than 10 minutes to walk the almost one kilometer from one side to the other. roundAround could reduce this travel time to less than two minutes.


“roundAround is one of the first proposed applications of Roboat, our research in collaboration with AMS Institute,” says Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab and Professor of the Practice at MIT. “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 wellequipped to be implemented in other parts of the city and other cities worldwide.”


A need for more dynamic infrastructures in cities

“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. Involving citizens and visitors of the area roundAround would provide the research project with valuable continuous feedback loops” says Stephan van Dijk, Head of Research at AMS Institute. The idea of roundAround should open up discussions to also consider innovative and dynamic ways to make changes to the city’s infrastructure. The city of Amsterdam is growing rapidly, and various new areas are being developed. With this the question of how to keep the city connected arises. Permanent infrastructural developments are complex and lengthy processes. To keep up with developments the dynamic infrastructure of roundAround could be used as a temporary solution. When needs change the boats can be used at a different location or for a different purpose.


Marineterrein Amsterdam Living Lab

AMS Institute brings together designers, engineers, and social and natural scientists to explore creative ways to tackle the challenges facing contemporary cities. In the past year AMS Institute has relocated to Marineterrein Amsterdam, a partly decommissioned military area in the heart of Amsterdam that is rapidly becoming a hub of innovation. The area is developing into a location where organizations with the shared goal of making and keeping cities livable can research, experiment and test urban innovations in a reallife setting in order to develop scalable innovations. “With Marineterrein Amsterdam as a Living Lab – and the location at the waterfront, close to the Amsterdam canals — this is the perfect operating base for further developing and testing the Roboat project,” explains van Dijk.


How does roundAround work?

Equipped with cameras and Lidar technologies powered by artificial intelligence, roundAround’s multifunctional hulls are designed to transport people and goods across the canal while constantly evaluating the surrounding environment to maximize safety and efficiency. The Roboat units move in a continuous circle across the canal. Once at the quayside, these electric boats are guided by rail to a platform with inductive charging infrastructure where they can pick up and drop off passengers. Platforms are furnished with benches for passengers along with interpretive material showing details and real-time updates about the Roboat project.


Transporting people and deploying a flexible infrastructure are just two of the possible use cases of the Roboat platform. Other Roboat use cases include collecting household garbage and transporting construction materials via Amsterdam’s canals, both of which could relieve pressure from the busy roads in the city center.


Expanding the range of urban infrastructural solutions

roundAround is part of a larger effort to understand what the most suitable method will be to bridge this waterway. Various options are being considered, ranging from more traditional options to roundAround. Autonomously bridging the waterway between NEMO and Marineterrein Amsterdam would continue the Dutch tradition of innovation in naval technology and illustrates how the intersection of science, technology and design can bring about creative solutions to urban challenges

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