In Amsterdam, self-driving boats could be the next step for autonomous vehicles

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One quarter of Amsterdam is covered in water, but experts are betting that area can be used for much more than boats carrying tourists and scenic views.

Enter Roboat, a self-driving boat/floating platform system that can navigate the canals to move cargo or trash containers, or even assemble into temporary structures. It is being developed by researchers at MIT and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions. The boats find the best path between preprogrammed locations, while using GPS, laser sensors, and cameras to avoid hitting anything.

The current prototypes are 1:4 scale, and they’re still at least a few years from actual deployment. But the more time they spend in the water, the more they learn.

Researchers ran two prototypes on Amsterdam’s canals last month. Watch the video above to see the boats in action, and hear the researchers explain how they offer a whole new kind of infrastructure.