The AVATAR project aims to develop testing and demonstration of innovative and sustainable transport and logistics solutions to move large volumes of urban freight transport away from long-distance road transport with autonomous and emission-free vessels to achieve a modal shift from road to water (e.g. fleets, canals, waterways). AVATAR stands for Autonomous Vessels, cost-effective trAnshipmenT, wAste Return.

Project Period
May 2020 – June 2023

Funding Programme
The project is co-financed by the European Union from the EU Interreg North Sea Region 2014 - 2020 (European Regional Development Fund)

Project budget   
Total EUR 1.89 million, funding (ERDF): EUR 0.95 million

Project focus:

  • Development of prototypes of automated to autonomous ship units
  • Development of remote monitoring and control concepts
  • Development of use cases and business cases for use in an urban context
  • Analysis of the political and legal framework for the deployment of autonomous ship units in the participating regions
  • Performance of pilot tests

Project Partners

The project consortium consists of 7 partners from 3 different countries (Germany, Belgium, Netherlands) and brings together scientific and economic actors.

TU Delft is acting as work package leader to test and demonstrate the usability of urban freight vessels and to develop methods for independent evaluation and validation of the performance of urban inland waterways transport (IWT) and corresponding technologies. The Maritime and Transport Technology department of TU Delft has investigated for more than ten years the possibility of designing hardware and software frameworks to control and supervise multiple autonomous ships, optimize energy consumption and logistics efficiency. Very closed collaboration with the Researchlab Autonomous Shipping (RAS) enables the testing and demonstrations in real life on various routes in different cities. Knowledge and experience are expected to be gathered to understand under what conditions urban IWT can be beneficial and in which circumstances. Moreover, economic viability and overall (region specific) business cases will be assessed in this testing phase.

Furthermore, various associated partners support the project:

Project Summary

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, etc.) for inland waterway transport (IWT) accounts for 3.9 €cent/tkm, whereas for road transport this is 70% higher [CE 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.

Project Website



Dr. ir. Yusong Pang (Y.Pang@tudelft.nl)

Prof. dr. Rudy Negenborn (R.R.Negenborn@tudelft.nl)

Ing. Vittorio Garofano (V.Garofano@tudelft.nl)

Dr. Vasso Reppa (V.Reppa@tudelft.nl)