Autonomous boats that offer high manoeuvrability and precise control could help to reduce congestion in cities that rely heavily on their waterways, such as Amsterdam and Bangkok.
MIT researchers have developed the boats which can be rapidly 3D printed using a low-cost printer, making mass manufacturing more feasible. “Imagine shifting some 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,” said Daniela Rus who co-authored a paper on the technology.
The researchers even envisage that the boats could be programmed to self-assemble into floating bridges, concert stages, platforms for food markets and other structures in a matter of hours.
“Again, 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,” Rus said.
The boats feature rectangular 4m x 2m hulls and are equipped with sensors, microcontrollers, GPS modules and other hardware. The boats could also be equipped with environmental sensors to monitor a city’s waters and gain insight into urban and human health.
To make the boats, the researchers 3D printed a rectangular hull with a commercial printer, producing 16 separate sections that were spliced together. Printing took around 60 hours. The completed hull was then sealed with several layers of fiberglass.