Evidence of the rising interest in automated vehicles is all around us, from Uber buying a provider of self-driving trucks to Rolls-Royce designing remote-controlled cargo ships. Amid all the hype, one player on the world robotics stage is often overlooked: the Netherlands. The sixth-largest economy in the European Union, the Netherlands has quietly become a hotbed of logistics robotics innovation.
The new technology developed there involves several transportation modes: road, rail, and sea. In April, automated truck convoys cruised across Europe to a finish line in the Netherlands. As part of a "drone truck" experiment, six convoys of paired, semiautomated "smart" trucks completed a driverless tour of the Continent, leaving from points in Sweden and Germany and finishing their journey at Rotterdam harbor. Each convoy followed a route set by its human-driven lead vehicle.
In June, the Dutch rail infrastructure firm ProRail announced plans to test driverless freight trains on the 90-mile route between Rotterdam and Emmerich. ProRail will work with German firm DB Cargo to design the system, get government approval, and conduct trial runs, likely sometime in 2018. The tests would take place on tracks without passenger traffic, and all trains will have human drivers on board, reports say.
And in September, the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) launched a five-year project to create self-driving cargo boats (see photo) to ply that city's ancient canals. AMS researchers will collaborate with engineers at three universities in the US $27 million "Roboat" project, which could have prototype drone boats afloat before the end of 2017.