Autonomous water taxis could soon become a regular mode of transport without a captain on board in Helsinki. A local boat company, Callboats, is offering autonomous water taxi rides between the Finnish city of Helsinki and a nearby archipelago.
With the Callboats app, passengers can book transport to their friend’s cottage on an island or take their city-center children on a nature trip to an otherwise inaccessible island located in the city center.
Autonomous electric boat transport may be the solution to various challenges faced by Helsinki’s archipelago, such as making it more accessible, reducing carbon emissions, and addressing the shortage of captains. However, current legislation prevents autonomous boats from operating since at least one crew member must be on board, which poses a roadblock to the implementation of this technology.
Last summer, the City of Helsinki selected Callboats to operate the first regular route to the islands of Kotiluoto, North Villaluoto, and Malkasaari in East Helsinki. However, hiring a captain for a boat trip could cost over 50 euros, which is not affordable for everyone. Additionally, there is a severe shortage of captains in the area, which makes it even more challenging to provide regular boat services.
“As much as 60–70% of the costs of archipelago transport come from the captains’ wages. Thanks to the autonomous operation, one captain could operate five Callboats, which would offer more profit within the short season and lower prices for consumers,” says Managing Director Peter Ostberg from Mente Marine (Callboats).
Also, studies have found that as many as 80–90% of accidents at sea may be due to human error. Autonomous water taxis could be more helpful in reducing maritime accidents as they are equipped with various safety features, such as 360-degree cameras, sensors, and AI. This helps them monitor their environment, track and avoid hazards, and navigate the waterways. Furthermore, Callboats’ aluminum drawbridge attaches to the pier with exceptional security, reducing the risk of accidents compared to the conventional attachment method that uses ropes.
Callboats’ self-piloted boats may operate for long periods between charging thanks to an efficient hull design. The 10-seater boats are powered by four 10-kW electric pod thrusters, providing a relaxed maximum speed of 9 knots (10 mph, 17 km/h).
The boats can run for up to 9 hours at a slower 6 knots (11 km/h) with the help of a 60 kWh standard battery. In addition, there’s a 1500W (nominal) solar array on the roof, which provides part of the energy on good sunny days. To ensure an uninterrupted power supply, the battery can be charged from an 11 kW 3-phase charger.
Helsinki aims to improve accessibility to its archipelago and promote emissions-free maritime transport as part of its naval strategy. Forum Virium Helsinki, the City of Helsinki’s innovation company, has participated in the practical pilot project on on-demand boats since 2020. According to Senior Specialist Pekka Koponen from Forum Virium, a system of autonomous on-demand boats is an important innovation that can significantly improve the accessibility of the archipelago.