The massive under-exploitation of inland waterways (IWW) in the North Sea Region, especially in and around urban environments, provides opportunities for technological innovations. This project aims to deploy zero-emission automated vessels that can do hourly traffic between the Urban Consolidation Centers outside the city and inner city hubs, focusing on the distribution of palletized goods and waste return.

The average external cost (congestion, accidents, air pollution, climate, noise,...) for inland waterway transport (IWT) accounts for 3.9 €cent/tkm, whereas for road transport this is 70% higher [TU Delft, 2018]. However, w.r.t urban freight transport (UFT), vessels (< 300T) are currently not economically viable, already resulting in the demolishment of over 12% of small vessels (CEMT I-II) in the last decade. Crew costs for these vessels account for up to 60% of the total shipping costs. Increased automation will be critically important to ensure a sustainable and economically viable future on this scale.

The AVATAR project aims to tackle those challenges by developing, testing and assessing adequate technologies and business models for urban autonomous zero-emission IWT. Through this, the project unlocks the economic potential of urban vessels and corresponding waterways, increases available solutions for full-cycle automation and sets up a sustainable supply chain model for urban goods distribution and waste return.