By Julia Zorthian
October 6, 2016

As unmanned drones take to the skies and self-driving cars start to navigate roads, MIT’s Senseable City Lab and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions are developing the world’s first fleet of autonomous boats. The so-called roboats will not only carry people and goods through Amsterdam’s canals but also assess the chemical health of the waters using a series of environmental sensors. (Test missions will start next year.) Eventually, says Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT lab, they will be able to self-assemble into floating structures, such as a makeshift bridge or concert stage.

Write to Julia Zorthian at julia.zorthian@time.com.

This appears in the October 17, 2016 issue of TIME.

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