Technology

Water drones: emissions-free passenger travel

 By Michelle Leslie

Water transportation is big business, and it’s booming. Globally, the water taxi market is forecast to be worth more than 500 billion dollars within the next eight years…

However, with increased water traffic comes an increase in air and water pollution. Currently, most of the water taxi industry relies on diesel fuel as its main power source, leaving in its wake negative environmental and health consequences for both waterways and the people who use them. Our world’s waterways are responsible for producing more than half of the oxygen that we and other land-beings need to survive.
The European Environmental Agency (EEA), which monitors air pollution in Europe, has found that, “while air quality is slowly improving, air pollution remains the single largest environmental health hazard in Europe, resulting in a lower quality of life due to illness and an estimated 467,000 premature deaths per year.”
Air, water, noise pollution and congestion are all challenges to modern transport systems. Paris, for example, is known for its fine cuisine, its historical architecture- and its traffic jams. The city is home to major commuting stress, with congestion adding an extra 154 hours per year to the average commute. This problem is compounded by the lack of places to park. It is estimated there are 500,000 more cars coming into the city’s business district every day than there are legal parking spots.
Water taxis could help reduce air pollution and have the double benefit of alleviating congestion from the world’s most traffic-jammed cities with an efficient fleet of water taxi transport, especially if renewable technologies can help to cut down on the amount of pollution entering the water.

Innovating water transport

Looking to redirect urban mobility toward waterways, a company in France is looking to chart a new course for water taxis – one that is emissions-free and sustainably managed. Meet SeaBubbles, the company behind flying water taxis that can travel at speeds of up to 30 kilometers per hour. This innovative idea to transform water travel relies on a battery system powered by renewable energy.
“The goal was clear; make our cities flow again with a zero wave, zero noise, zero emission solution,” stated the SeaBubbles team.

The company’s Bubble Taxi technology uses hydrofoil inspired by the aeronautic industry to create drone-like boats that hover over the water. The Bubble Taxis can carry a half-dozen passengers, including a driver, and instead of fueling stations, this technology relies on moveable docking stations with charging cables and solar covers; think of a Tesla on the water.
“When reaching 11 km/h (7.5 mph), the Bubble will start flying above the water, preventing seasickness, sudden movements or rolling waves. Once the ride is over, the Bubble slowly comes back to the water level to reach the Dock, letting its passengers out and waiting until the next ones are ready to board,” reported the SeaBubbles team.
Their approach will also result in time savings for customers, who can cut their travel times in about half. For example, a 40-minute car ride from the Venice airport to downtown will only take 16 minutes in a Bubble. Saving CO2 is another added benefit. The same trip would divert almost 4 kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. SeaBubbles technology will use an app, just like Uber or Lyft, where drivers will book their Bubble through their smartphones.

A Canadian first

SeaBubbles isn’t alone in its quest to transform transportation. Ride Solar, is a Canadian company based in Prince Edward Island, where their objective is “unique, clean, green and fun – just like PEI.”
“The boat can be run completely off of 6 kilowatts of solar power on a decent sunny day when traveling at two knots,” said Steve Arnold, director, Ride Solar.

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3D render of the Isola Solaretto, the world's first solar-powered dinner cruise and tour boat (ridesolar.com)

Their inaugural solar boat is a retrofitted Vaporetto boat from the 1967 Montreal Expo. The Isola Solaretto, the world’s first solar-powered dinner cruise and tour boat, will provide tourists with an opportunity to get a green viewing perspective of Canada’s smallest province. The boat, which took almost three years to rebuild and retrofit, can hold up to forty passengers and a handful of crew members and has flexible solar panels on its roof. It is the first of many projects that Arnold hopes to undertake in his quest to create a transit system powered solely by solar.
Later this summer, Ride Solar will start taking passengers on cruises around the Charlottetown harbor. The SeaBubbles Bubble Taxi was commercially launched this past May during VivaTechnology 2018 in Paris. If all goes according to plan, SeaBubbles hopes to have its water drones woven into the transportation networks of at least 50 cities around the globe by 2023.

READ MORE: Urban transformation in progress by RP Siegel

about the author
Michelle Leslie
Alberta, Toronto and now Ottawa. Meteorologist, Journalist & Munk School Of Global Affairs Fellow.