Autonomous Electric Ferries (Autoferry) - Low Carbon Connectors

Island and peninsula communities in Puget Sound are often isolated from regional cities like Seattle and Tacoma due to an extensive transit time by road. Regional ferry systems are large and expensive to operate, limiting the number of service times and access points. Most of the ferries only operate between larger regional towns and major cities, isolating smaller communities that often lack bus services as well. Autonomous electric ferries offer a unique low-carbon option to better connect rural communities in the region. This autonomous passenger ferry would operate like an elevator, where passengers on one side press a button to summon the ferry. While the ferry is not in use, it charges at the dock in preparation for the call. The ferry could transport passengers and bikes, creating a new alternative to traditional car-centric communities. The Seattle-Tacoma area has 23.8 million passengers on ferries per year, which could be shifted to low-carbon electric ferries over time. The objective of this project is to perform a feasibility study for the application of autonomous electric ferries in the Puget Sound region. The research team plans to gather data about where the most isolated and underserved rural communities are located, map a list of possible ferry connection points, and study prior autonomous ferry capabilities to understand the challenges and limitations of the region. The team also plan to understand the technical challenges that might occur with regional auto ferries and develop partnerships for longer-term collaboration on this topic. At the core of this project is a collaboration with the industry partners from the Washington Autonomous Vehicle Cluster (WAV-C). They plan to make the Pacific Northwest the premier destination for marine autonomous technologies. The project will address economic strength through system reliability (travel time reliability) and connectivity, emphasizing the need to empower rural communities and expand access (equity). It contributes to climate and sustainability goals by proposing autonomous electric ferries to connect isolated islands and rural communities, especially around Seattle-Tacoma, alleviating mobility constraints for people and goods. The project will identify different factors to consider when assessing the mobility of people and goods in isolated islands and rural communities. This project’s anticipated results and deliverables include a feasibility study for auto ferries in Washington (WA) state, a peer-reviewed conference or journal paper on auto ferries and technology challenges in WA state, and undergraduate research student experiences focused on women/BIPOC students in engineering to support workforce development goals.


    • English


    • Status: Active
    • Funding: $Federal: $93,670 Matching: $46,518
    • Contract Numbers:


    • Sponsor Organizations:

      Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

      University Transportation Centers Program
      Department of Transportation
      Washington, DC  United States  20590
    • Managing Organizations:

      Florida A&M University, Tallahassee

      404 Foote/Hilyer
      Tallahassee, FL  United States  32307
    • Project Managers:

      Moses, Ren

    • Performing Organizations:

      University of Washington Tacoma

      1900 Commerce Street
      Tacoma, Washington  United States 
    • Principal Investigators:

      Dillon, Heather

      Walters, Jeffrey P.

      Kitali, Angela

    • Start Date: 20230901
    • Expected Completion Date: 20240831
    • Actual Completion Date: 0
    • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers Program

    Subject/Index Terms

    Filing Info

    • Accession Number: 01896744
    • Record Type: Research project
    • Source Agency: Rural Equitable and Accessible Transportation Center
    • Contract Numbers: 69A3552348321
    • Files: UTC, RIP
    • Created Date: Oct 19 2023 4:31PM