A team of MIT researchers has been collaborating for years in a research project with the city of Amsterdam.
The objective of the study is to develop a robot boat that makes up an entire fleet of fully automatic boats. A group able to navigate without human guidance in the many canals of the Dutch city.
Last June, after developing the locomotion and orientation system, researchers announced the ability of "robot boats" to proceed either alone or by docking with each other.
After only two months, showing a huge acceleration of the processes, the team made a new announcement. The automatic fleet has acquired a new capacity: to change shape and configuration along the way.
A tetris on the water
Last week the MIT team has published a paper at the International Symposium of Multi-Agent and Multi-Robot Systems. The publication describes in detail the algorithm that allows the robot boat to start sailing in one way, separate from its "colleagues" and then rejoin them while sailing.
This ability can make the fleet even more versatile, allowing it to make the most of Amsterdam's 165 navigable canals.
"A group of robot boats can come together to form a bridge if there is a need to suddenly transport materials from one side of a canal to the other," says the researcher Daniela Rus. "On market days, boats can come together to form large floating platforms that can accommodate shops, and so on."
In other words, not just a means of river transport based on autonomous vehicles, but a real system of intelligent infrastructures that can be assembled and separated as needed.
The proof of 9
The team will remain convincing and decisive in the system in 6 months, building the first bridge over the water in the world consisting of a fleet of robot boats joined together in one walkable strip of 60 meters.
Will it withstand an intense flow of pedestrians? The road is marked, but I would not like to see unwanted dives, not even in the testing phase.