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.