Nowhere in Europe there are water taxis like in Rotterdam. A demand-driven transport network of twenty boats that take you from A to B on request is unique. Watertaxi Rotterdam, which has more than fifty of its own docks throughout the city, has been a symbol of the city of Rotterdam and its port for 27 years now. In order to keep developing in terms of digitalisation, Watertaxi Rotterdam has started working with Flying Fish, a company that focuses on maritime innovation. Flying Fish makes good use of the room for experimentation that Rotterdam offers. The brothers Gerben and Johan Schonebaum, co-founders of the Delft start-up Flying Fish, are working on a digital water taxi network. They are also aiming to have a water taxi running on hydrogen by 2022.
Flying Fish consists of a team of eighteen young technical minds who want to make the world more sustainable. “We combine years of experience gained by Watertaxi Rotterdam with a fresh approach,” says Johan, “which is perfect for setting up a digital water taxi network and operating the boats more economically. It should lead to our own water taxi app, which should improve the ease of use and the efficiency of passenger transport by water. We’re aiming to make all water taxi operations emission free. But the step from diesel-powered boats to water taxis that run entirely on electricity is a big one. That’s why we want to utilise the existing fleet more efficiently first, with intelligent automation. Currently Watertaxi Rotterdam operates as such: bookings for trips are collected in the control centre. There’s already a software environment for trip planning, but now we’re going to take it a step further. The idea is that the system will plan the trips. The huge growth of passenger numbers in Rotterdam is simply making it impossible for the planning operators working at Watertaxi Rotterdam to keep up. Their role is changing. Automation isn’t going to replace staff – it’s going to support them.”
The digitalisation of the service consists of two elements that the brothers are currently working on. “Firstly, we’re developing algorithms that match the customer requests to the planning,” says Gerben. “If I want to go from the Euromast to the SS Rotterdam and somebody else calls two minutes later with the same request, algorithms need to be developed so that we don’t send two boats – just one that they can share. That doesn’t sound so complicated, but Watertaxi Rotterdam transports thousands of people on a busy day. That makes it impossible for someone working at the central control centre to keep track of it all. The algorithms are meant to help with that. Secondly, the central operator has to know exactly where the boats are, where they are going and how many people are on board. We bundle that information up clearly in a sensor module we developed in-house that will shortly be installed on all the boats. All the information from the boats then comes together in a big system. As soon as customers order a water taxi, the system makes the right, smart choices. On top of that, we can see the boats’ emissions at various speeds. That helps skippers to decide to sail calmly instead of at full throttle, for instance when he doesn’t have any customers onboard and is going back to the main office. Little changes like that let us minimise the diesel consumption and it’s how we are helping make the Rotterdam region a bit greener.”