The idea of self-driving cars cruising our roads may not be a new idea, but a plan to release autonomous boats into the canals of Amsterdam would be the first of its kind. The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute) is collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the first research program into the new technology. Called “roboats,” the autonomous ships would be designed to transport goods and people, as well as forming temporary, floating infrastructure.

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As the roboats cruise through the canals, the project will gather data on how urban waterways can be used to improve the city’s function and the quality of life of residents. They’ll be equipped with sensors that allow the boats to detect pollution and disease in the water, and could eventually be used to protect the environment. They could also be used to retrieve waste thrown in the water. In Amsterdam, that’s no small problem: 12,000 discarded bicycles end up in the canals every year.

Related: Airbus to build flying autonomous taxis that soar over traffic

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Amsterdam in particular was chosen for the project due to the large amount of the city covered by water. Nearly a quarter of the city is taken up by its waterways, which were originally designed as part of the city’s functional infrastructure. The first prototypes of the boats will be released in 2017, with the research project lasting for the next five years.

+ AMS Institute

Via New Atlas