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Autonomous waste collection in Amsterdam’s canals

Many cities around the world use underground waste containers to collect garbage. Instead of garbage being collected from individual homes and buildings, residents simply bring their waste to a nearby drop-off location, centralizing the collections process. This may not be the case in all neighborhoods, but it is being done. Ideally, and in some cases, these drop-off locations are connected through underground tubes so that the waste never actually needs to be collected.

Amsterdam is one example of a city that has a robust network of waste bins. But access isn’t universal. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the historic city center of Amsterdam houses about 10% of the city’s population. But only a portion of these households actually have convenient access to a fixed waste receptacle. Apparently it’s because its quays along the canals aren’t all that conducive to underground waste storage. This means that garbage tends to get stored on sidewalks within the public realm.

Researchers at the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute) and MIT have been working on a solution to this problem and it involves Amsterdam’s waterways. It turns out that while most residents within the city center don’t have convenient access to a waste bin, almost all of them are within 120m of a canal. The proposed solution is called project Roboat and it involves a fleet of autonomous vessels that could serve as on-demand drop-off locations. Here’s what they might look like:

The idea is that these garbage collectors would be dropped off and picked up by another set of autonomous “Roboats” and that the entire network could optimize itself over time as demand and usage changes. These Roboats might also serve to transport people and goods, all while they shuttle garbage around the city and perhaps even check the quality of the water in the canals. My first thought is that this sort of autonomy feels easier to execute on than autonomous cars. You have other boats to content with, but you don’t have pedestrians.

So maybe we’ll be seeing Roboats around Amsterdam sooner rather than later.

Image: MIT/AMS Institute

Filed under: urbanism

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I am a real estate developer based in Toronto. This is my daily blog for city builders.

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