Roboat is a new kind of on-demand infrastructure: autonomous platforms will combine together to form floating bridges and stages, collect waste, deliver goods, and transport people, all while collecting data about the city. How can we re-imagine urban infrastructures with cutting-edge technologies? And which ethical questions should be considered?

After working on 1:4 and 1:2 scale prototypes in the first three years of research, finally the full-scale prototype is being developed. The prototype is being tested in the waters of the inner harbor of the Marineterrein in Amsterdam.

The development of the Roboat project is currently at a stage where we explore ethical questions that may arise concerning the use of the Roboats in Amsterdam’s canals. To explore these questions, the Responsible Sensing Lab has been organising a Responsible Roboat Design Sprint in June and July of 2021. This Design Sprint consisted of two sessions: ‘exploring ethical questions’ and ‘ideating responsible solutions’.

In the first session, we have focussed on the Roboat technology and two use cases: garbage collection and transportation. We have formulated ethical questions and friction points that might emerge. Taking selected issues and questions from the first session, we have brainstormed possible solutions and improvements on the Roboat technology in session two.

Introducing autonomy and AI on the water in cities will result in many ethical, legal and societal considerations. Discussing these issues early on can aid the design process towards a more desirable end point.”

— Ynse Deinema, project coördinator Roboat, AMS Institute

People with different backgrounds and expertise participated in this design sprint, such as the Roboat engineers, privacy experts, designers and public servants. In a next step, the Responsible Sensing Lab and Roboat team will aim to choose an idea for a responsible solution and develop this into a (lo-fi) prototype.


We have explored ethical questions around this project and brainstormed responsible solutions. Read the full report of this design sprint here.

More about Roboat

Roboat is a 5-year research project and collaboration between the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (one of the initiators of the Responsible Sensing Lab) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In developing the world's first fleet of autonomous floating vessels for the city of Amsterdam, it investigates the potential of self-driving technology to change our cities and their waterways.

Read interview with design engineer Pietro Leoni

Ynse Deinema

Project Coordinator Roboat, AMS Institute

AMS Institute

Tessa Steenkamp

Experience designer

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