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Will this self-driving ferry in Norway revolutionise public transport?

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Norway is pioneering an electric, self-driving water taxi that could revolutionise urban public transport in the era of the climate crisis. The water taxis are small, carbon-neutral and customers can summon them at the push of a button.

Norwegian start-up Zeabuz has revealed it will launch a self-driving ferry, or water taxi, next year. Capable of carrying up to 12 passengers at a time, customers will be able to hail the commuter ferry by pressing a button on their phones. The emissions-free mode of public transport was first developed by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in 2018 and Zeabuz are on track to getting it on the water and serving commuters by 2021.

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Rendering of self-driving water taxi
Passengers can summon the water ferry at the touch of a button ©Zeabuz

The battery-powered Zeabuz will transport passengers across waterways in cities, as well as settlements along the coast where boat trips are common with the intention of having minimal impact on the environment. It's a self-driving system, a technology that can make people feel a little uneasy but the company assured all safety standards and checks have been met. Using state-of-the-art sensors, the autonomous ferry will be able to detect the area around them and safely navigate around swimmers, other boats or stationary objects in the water. Those sensors will feed data back to the control system to help it make decisions about where to dock and how to handle passengers safely.

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Rendering of mechanical parts of an electric, self-driving ferry
The inner workings of the Zeabuz ©Zeabuz

By revitalising urban waterways, Zeabuz said it will be able to reduce congestion, emissions, noise pollution and traffic jams in cities, while boosting public health. The ferries will connect and integrate with existing land-based public transport infrastructure to give people more sustainable choices in getting from A to B. To make it especially user-friendly, the docks will be well-placed to suit commuters, while the ferry's compact size means it will be able to travel under bridges with ease.

Rendering of water taxi in nature
Zeabuz could take off in other countries ©Zeabuz

As well as selling the Zeabuz to cities in Norway, the company said it wants to help international partners in designing and building similar ferries in places with navigable waterways like New York, Sydney, Istanbul, London, Amsterdam and Hong Kong. Many places are already making strides in sustainable water-based public transport. Paris is developing "flying water taxis" or SeaBubbles along the River Seine. And Denmark's first electric ferry entered service last year, the first in the country without a diesel engine on board.

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