3D printed driverless boats could be the city transport of the future

A fleet of autonomous vessels has been designed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Press Association
Last updated: 25 May 2018 - 2.34pm

Driverless boats could be used in the future to transport people and goods around major cities to help cut congestion.

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have designed 3D printed autonomous boats which are also fitted with environmental sensors to monitor a city’s water.

[Read more: 3D printing explained]

They have been created at the university’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Proposed future uses include transport, docking and self-assembling into platforms such as concert stages and spaces for market stalls.

The boats are equipped with sensors, microcontrollers and GPS modules, and could be used in cities known for their waterways such as Amsterdam, Bangkok or Venice to clear up road congestion.

In future, the researchers hope the driverless boats will be adapted to perform city services overnight, reducing congestion on roads and canals.

First tested in 2016, the latest incarnation has new innovations – a more agile design, improved control and more precise algorithms.

CSAIL director Daniela Rus said: “Imagine shifting some of the infrastructure services that usually take place during the day on the road – deliveries, garbage management, waste management – to the middle of the night, on the water, using a fleet of autonomous boats.

“Some of the activities that are usually taking place on land, and that cause disturbance in how the city moves, can be done on a temporary basis on the water.”

Autonomous 3D printed boat from MIT
(Courtesy of researchers/MIT)

The latest prototype of the boat was tested along pre-planned paths in a swimming pool and in the Charles River in Massachusetts. The 2016 prototype cruised around Amsterdam’s canals.

The team is now looking at how to account for wave disturbances and stronger currents.

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