Many say the future is already here, with the introduction of driverless cars appearing on roadways and unmanned aviation crafts soaring through the skies. It would seem inevitable for this degree of technology to begin to influence other means of transportation, namely of the nautical variety. That has certainly been the case with plans currently in place to test some of the world’s first prototype autonomous vessels that are set to launch within the next year.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has donated $20 million towards research in their collaboration with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) to help put unmanned nautical vehicles on the map and catch up with their automotive and aviation counterparts. Researchers from MIT and AMS are developing and launching a prototype of theirs called the “Roboat,” whose research and early stages of testing will take place in Amsterdam’s elaborate canal network. Strictly aimed towards making the “transportation of goods and people” more efficient according to MIT Professor Carlo Ratti, the Roboat is expected to have a variety of uses that include spearheading an effort to clean up the tens of thousands of bicycles that wind up in the canal waters every year (over 12,000 are deposited yearly), stacking together to form bridges across canals during busy events or the presence of large crowds to ease congestion of foot traffic, rid the canals of floating waste and other garbage, along with using these unmanned vessels to help implement research on underwater robots that can detect the presence of water-borne pathogens.
On a larger more commercialized level, some speculate that autonomous ships can become seaworthy over the next 10 years. A lot of motivation behind the development of unmanned ships is the potential of significantly reducing carbon emissions from nautical vehicles, and the amount of fuel these ships use by 10-15 percent. Considering all the amenities a shipping vessel needs for a fully-staffed crew (food and water, waste storage, heating, electricity, etc.) autonomous ships could also become capable of traveling lighter and at steadier rates with this drastic reduction of weight.
Carbon emissions from nautical vessels are responsible for 2-3 percent of greenhouse gases, a number that could potentially balloon to six or seven times the amount over the next 30-35 years at the current rate. Since many ships used in commercialized tasks like cargo ships still resort to bunker fuel and many companies haven’t shown any signs of transitioning to cleaner fuel cells, it’s prompted more research to go in making commercialized nautical vessels more fuel-efficient. Remote-controlled unmanned boats are among the forefront of methods being used to achieve this goal, however considering the early stages of research and development this new frontier of autonomous transportation is in, it won’t be for another few years until it’s determined whether or not autonomous watercrafts will have any significant impacts on an economic or environmental scale.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)