Scan the headlines for logistics developments, and you'll quickly be convinced that the drones are coming ... and soon. Evidence of the rising interest in automated vehicles is all around us, from Uber buying a self-driving truck provider to Clearpath launching warehouse robots to Rolls-Royce designing remote-controlled cargo ships.
Amid the clamor, one player on the world robotics stage is often overlooked: the Netherlands. It may be only the sixth-largest economy in the European Union, but the Netherlands has quietly become a hotbed of logistics robotics innovation and development.
The new tech covers several travel modes: road, rail, and sea. For instance, in April, automated truck convoys cruised across Europe to a finish line in the Netherlands. As part of a "drone truck" experiment, six convoys of paired semiautomated "smart" trucks completed a driverless tour of the Continent, leaving from points in Sweden and Germany and finishing their journey at Rotterdam harbor. Each convoy followed a route set by its human-driven lead vehicle.
In June, the Dutch rail infrastructure firm ProRail announced plans to test driverless freight trains on the 90-mile route between Rotterdam and Emmerich. ProRail will work with German firm DB Cargo to design the system, get government approval, and conduct trial runs, likely sometime in 2018. The tests would take place on tracks without passenger traffic, and all trains will have human drivers on board, reports say.
And in September, the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) launched a five-year project to create self-driving cargo boats (pictured above) to ply the city's ancient canals. AMS researchers will collaborate with engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Delft University of Technology (TUD), and Wageningen University and Research (WUR) in the $27 million "Roboat" project, which could have prototype drone boats afloat before the end of 2017.