Norway Is Developing Self-driving Ferries That Passengers Can Summon With the Push of a Button

The country continues to be a pioneer in ferry transport.

rendering of a Zeabuz ferry in a city landscape
Photo: Zeabuz

Forget self-driving electric cars, Norway is working to develop self-driving electric ferries.

The zero-emissions ferries would work kind of like an elevator, Erik Dyrkoren, CEO of Zeabuz — the company behind them, told CNN.

Passengers on either side of a canal could push a button to call the ferry over, then make the 60-second ride across the canal, a trip that would take 15 minutes on foot. Cameras and sensors would scan the water for potential obstacles, and a navigation system like those used in submarines and airplanes would help the vessels find their way.

rendering of a Zeabuz ferry docked

Dyrkoren told CNN he envisions the ferry service to be free and to operate as a public service under the watchful eye of manned central operations offices. "Complete autonomy, where you leave the machines to themselves, is not really a scenario that anyone is talking about," he told CNN.

Zeabus is working to develop the self-driving ferries in Trondheim, which sits on the Trondheim Fjord, in central Norway.

Companies in Finland, France, and the Netherlands also are testing self-operating ferries, but Norway already has been a pioneer in ferry transport. It launched the world's first electric ferry for passengers and cars in 2015.

The push to improve ferry systems comes as an increasing number of cities are looking to better use their waterways for public transport. Bangkok is adding 5,000 electric water taxis, Uber is launching boat taxis to transit the River Thames in London, and New York City is expanding its ferry system to include each of its five boroughs.

Istanbul already sees more than 100 million ferry passengers each year. Hong Kong sees about 46 million ferry passengers a year. Seattle — the U.S. city with the highest level of ferry usage — sees nearly 24 million ferry passengers a year.

Meena Thiruvengadam is a Travel + Leisure contributor who has visited 50 countries on six continents and 47 U.S. states. She loves historic plaques, wandering new streets, and walking on beaches. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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