The city of Helsinki, Finland now has an autonomous water taxi service. Callboats – a local boat company – is offering the service between the city and a nearby archipelago. The service is expected to make the islands more accessible, reduce carbon emissions, and address the shortage of boat captains.
“As much as 60–70% of the costs of archipelago transport come from the captains’ wages. Thanks to the autonomous operation, one captain could operate five Callboats, which would offer more profit within the short season and lower prices for consumers,” said Managing Director of Callboats, Peter Ostberg.
The self-piloted boats are able to operate for long periods between charging thanks to an efficient hull design. The 10-seater boats are powered by four 10-kW electric pod thrusters, providing a maximum speed of 9 knots (10 mph, 17 km/h). They can run for up to 9 hours at a slower 6 knots (11 km/h) with the help of a 60 kWh standard battery. They are also powered by a 1500W (nominal) solar array on the rooftop. To ensure an uninterrupted power supply, the battery can be charged from an 11 kW 3-phase charger.
Passengers can book transport using the Callboats app on an on-demand basis. Current regulations do not permit the boats to operate completely autonomously, as they must have at least one crew member on board.
Studies have shown that up to 80–90% of maritime accidents result from human error. Autonomous water taxis may be helpful in reducing the number of these accidents, as they are equipped with various safety systems, including sensors, cameras, and artificial intelligence.
“It is often forgotten that elevators used to have operators until it was learned that autonomous rides were just as safe. Remote captains have better visibility than those on-site. The Callboats water taxi has a large camera on its roof, and the captain has a large screen,” Ostberg stated.