EU Interreg NSR Project


AVATAR aims to test innovative and sustainable urban freight transport concepts with autonomous and emission-free vessels in order to achieve a modal shift from road to water (e.g. fleets, canals, waterways) in an urban context on the last mile.


Project period: May 2020 - June 2023

Funding Programme: The project is co-financed by the European Union from the EU Interreg North Sea Region 2014 - 2020 (European Regional Development Fund)

Project budget: Total EUR 2,83 million, funding (ERDF): EUR 1,42 million

Project focus:

  •    Development of prototypes of automated to autonomous ship units
  •    Development of remote monitoring and control concepts
  •    Development of use cases and business cases for use in an urban context
  •    Analysis of the political and legal framework for the deployment of autonomous ship units in the participating regions
  •    Performance of pilot tests

The project consortium consists of 10 partners from 4 different countries (Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden) and brings together scientific and economic actors.

project partners:

The Logistics Initiative Hamburg is acting as work package leader for the development of use cases and business cases for use in an urban context and for the analysis of the political and legal framework for the use of autonomous ship units in the participating regions.

Furthermore, various associated partners support the project:

The massive underuse of inland waterways (IWW) in the North Sea Region, especially in urban environments, offers opportunities for technological innovation. This project aims at the deployment of zero-emission and automated vessel units that could establish regular traffic between urban consolidation centres in order to shift traffic from road to water in the last mile.

The average external costs (congestion, accidents, air pollution, climate, noise, etc.) for inland waterway transport is 3.9 € cents/tkm, while this figure is 70% higher for road transport [TU Delft, 2018]. Nevertheless, urban freight transport by water is currently not economically viable, which has already led to the scrapping of over 12% of small vessels (CEMT I-II) in the last decade. Crewing costs for these ships can account for up to 60% of total transport costs.

Increased automation will therefore be crucial to revive a sustainable and economically viable solution for the use of waterways in urban areas.

The AVATAR project aims to further explore these challenges by developing, testing and evaluating appropriate technologies and business models for urban autonomous zero-emission inland navigation. By doing so, the project unlocks the economic potential of "city ships" and related waterways, increases the available solutions for full cycle automation and develops sustainable supply chain models for urban freight distribution and waste management.

The project has been completed since 30.06.2023. Project work statuses and results have been published on the official project website.

Individual publications can also be found in the download section on the right.


Are you active in the last mile, autonomous transport, ITS or inland navigation sector, do you have questions on the topic or would like to implement or discuss a project idea in this area together with our network? Then you are welcome to contact us!