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Autonomous Boats Could Service Some Cities, Reducing Road Traffic

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A prototype of the autonomous boat.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have designed an autonomous boat that could be used to deliver city services and residents.

Credit: MIT News

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and MIT's Senseable City Lab have designed a fleet of highly maneuverable autonomous boats that, in waterway-rich cities, could be used to transport people or deliver goods.

The researchers also envision the driverless boats performing city services overnight, instead of during busy daylight hours, to minimize congestion.

"Imagine shifting some of 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," says CSAIL's Daniela Rus.

The boats have rectangular 4-by-2-meter hulls equipped with sensors, microcontrollers, GPS modules, and other hardware. They could be programmed to quickly self-assemble into floating bridges, concert stages, platforms for food markets, and other structures in a few hours.

In addition, environmental sensors could allow the boats to monitor a city's waters.

The boats can be printed using an inexpensive three-dimensional (3D) printer, offering potential for mass manufacturing.

From MIT News
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