Amsterdam is set to the launch the world’s first fleet of autonomous boats, or “roboats” if you will, through a five-year research project.
To be fair, the term has been used before for an autonomous sailboat used in marine surveying. But Amsterdam’s new Roboat program is more equivalent to what Google and Uber are doing with cars on streets—and a whole lot more.
Amsterdam is, after all, laced with canals, making it the ideal testbed for the world’s first major research program involving autonomous, metropolitan water transport. But this isn’t just transport. These Roboats are platforms that should be able to join together to form temporary bridges or extend the shore at times of peak demand, such as during rush hour or during a festival. They may even work as “pop-up stages” in the middle of the water.
The Roboats were developed by researchers at MIT, the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute), Delft University of Technology (TUD), and Wageningen University and Research (WUR), and are set to hit Amsterdam canals next year. “Apart from their capacity for supporting people, they might also be useful for collecting environmental information about water and air quality, and for helping to clear the canals of junk,” wrote Fortune’s David Meyer.