Helsinki has the advantage of an archipelago of islands directly 'in front of its doors'. The challenge however is the access to the many islands, which is predominantly provided by old ferry fleets that can cost more than EUR 50 a trip. Therefore, the city aims to improve access to the archipelago, and at the same time promote emission-free maritime transport, as part of its maritime strategy.
The solutions could very well be the use of autonomous electric water taxis. Helsinki’s innovation agency, Forum Virium Helsinki, engages in practical piloting of autonomous water taxis, where last summer, a pilot in cooperation with “Callboats”, a water taxi company, was run. The boats still had a crew member on board, since fully autonomous rides are not yet permitted.
The autonomous water taxis have the potential to drastically cut the costs of a trip, reduce pollution and improve safety levels. Peter Ostberg, CEO of Callboats, stated that: “Up to 60–70% of the costs of archipelago transportation come from paying captains. With autonomy, one captain could operate five water taxis, resulting in more profitable margins during short seasons and lower prices for consumers”.
Studies on water transport safety show that 80-90% of maritime accidents come from human error. The technical equipment onboard autonomous water taxis, including sensors, cameras, artificial intelligence and remote control, surpass the abilities of a captain on board. There would also be safer access to the vessel since they would be equipped with a gangway compared to traditional ferry rope mooring.
Pekka Koponen, Senior Specialist at Forum Virium Helsinki, sees a great potential in the exchange of the ferry fleet with autonomous electric water taxis: “Autonomous water taxis would be more agile, environmentally friendly, and much more cost-effective for travel to small islands compared to ferry services. In order to achieve Helsinki's carbon neutrality goals in public water transport, the propulsion of the fleet needs to change. Transitioning to autonomous boats would reduce costs and enable investments in new vessels.”
- Publication date
- 12 October 2023
- Collective passenger transport