Legendary British navigator, Dag Pike has reported that there are currently projects underway to 3D print autonomous boats for cities enriched with active waterways. Researchers anticipate that these boats will be able to perform various services over night – with little or no manpower. They believe that this will provide a major decrease in waterway traffic and ultimately reduce road traffic as well.

According to a member of the research team who has designed an arsenal of 3D printed autonomous boats, Daniela Rus, “The plan is to shift some of the infrastructure services that usually take place during the day by road such as deliveries, garbage management, and waste management to night time operations using a fleet of autonomous boats.”

In addition to Rus’ vision, scientists also believe that these driver-less boats could potentially ferry both goods and people. In cities such as Amsterdam and Venice, this could be a major aide in reducing their heavily congested roadway, as their canal systems stretch across their city streets.

A working scale model of one of the 3D printed autonomous boats.

These boats are designed to allow for a great deal of maneuverability and handling. Using a large-scale 3D printer which prints durable plastic materials, similar to one of BigRep’s 3D printing systems, scientists have already developed a fleet of these boats which are 4 meters long and 2 meters wide. The boats consist of 16 separately printed sections which are combined via splicing. The entire print job lasted only 60 hours, after which the hull was sealed with a composite laminate. The developers integrated a power supply, WiFi, GPS and minicomputer into the hole. In order to ensure that the boat is always at optimal positioning, the research team also added an ultrasound beacon systems and various GPS modules such as centimeter level localization and inertial measurement movement monitoring. Once they are 3D printed and fully assembled, the boats are equipped with a variety of sensors, micro-controllers, location trackers and other technologies. They could even feature environmental sensors in order to help the cities maintain clean water.

Adding even more to their abilities, these 3D printed boats can also be programmed to assemble. This means they would be able to create temporary concert stages, bridges, or even platforms that would allow businesses on the canal to create shops on their waterways.

Again, some of the activities that usually take place on land, and that cause disturbance in how the city moves, can be done on a temporary basis on the water,” the research team reiterated.

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