In brief: The creative folks over at MIT are always coming up with wild new pieces of technology, and today, they're unveiling another new project of that ilk: a robotic, autonomous boat capable of ferrying actual passengers. It's a bit more mundane than some of MIT's other breakthroughs, but it's still an impressive feat of engineering.
The boat, aptly named "Roboat II" (taking the name of its predecessor, the original Roboat), is the product of five years of experimentation over at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Like any good sequel, the Roboat II is bigger, smarter, and capable of supporting more weight than the original.
If you're wondering why a boat like this exists, there are a few notable reasons. First of all, the team behind this project has been tasked with creating the "world's first" fleet of autonomous boats for the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, so the Roboat II's development is part of that obligation.
However, even outside of that narrow objective, the Roboat II could be tremendously useful in other cities across the globe, provided they have canals or waterways. Small, autonomous boats like this could scoop up garbage, ferry packages, or even act as self-driving water taxis that transport people from place to place. The possibilities are endless here.
"We're developing fleets of Roboats that can deliver people and goods, and connect with other Roboats to form a range of autonomous platforms to enable water activities," says MIT Professor Daniela Rus.
Of course, while the Roboat II itself can carry two passengers, that doesn't necessarily mean that it should. The current design is rudimentary, to say the least, with no proper seats, protective rails, or storage space. However, as a proof of concept and the second iteration of a much smaller boat, the Roboat II is quite an achievement.
The Roboat II is a "Covid-friendly" 6 feet long, and it uses algorithms similar to those you'd find in self-driving cars to navigate the water. The Roboat team is currently working on a 4-meter long, "full scale" watercraft that will be able to carry anywhere from four to six passengers. We look forward to seeing that boat in action when the time comes.