World's first autonomous water taxi service opens in Helsinki
Callboats has become the first company in the world to offer autonomous water taxi rides between the Finnish city of Helsinki and a nearby archipelago. These solar-charged electric boats aim to drastically cut prices and address a captain shortage.
The company has been trialing captained electric services for the last 12 months, available through a smartphone app, and is now moving to autonomous operation, backed up by remote captains handling edge-case scenarios for several boats at a time.
"Up to 60–70% of the costs of archipelago transportation come from paying captains," CEO Peter Ostberg told the Helsinki Times. With autonomy, one captain could operate five water taxis, resulting in more profitable margins during short seasons and lower prices for consumers."
Due to current regulations, these first self-piloted boats will still need to have at least one crew member on board at all times. But the boats should be able to handle the entire job themselves, using various 360-degree cameras and sensors to monitor their environment, track and avoid hazards, navigate the waterways and auto-deploy gangplanks at pickup and dropoff piers.
The boats themselves are 10-seaters, running four 10-kW electric pod thrusters for a relaxed maximum speed of 9 knots (10 mph, 17 km/h). A 60-kWh standard battery offers around nine hours of endurance at a slower 6 knots (7 mph, 11 km/h). There's a 1.5-kW solar array on the roof, which might manage to charge the battery 8-10 kWh on a good day, but the remainder's fed in through an 11 kW 3-phase charger.
They'll cover rides between Helsinki and the Kotiluoto, Villaluoto and Malkasaari islands – short hops maxing out at around a couple of miles per round trip. Callboats says going autonomous will improve access to these islands, citing a shortage of skippers willing to handle this kind of repetitive work.
Check out a short video below, showing what's presumably an earlier test version of similar autonomous software running on a smaller six-seat boat.