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On-demand, autonomous and electric – Finnish water transport ticks all boxes

Callboats offers the world’s first commercial autonomous solution for on-demand boats.


The City of Helsinki has been piloting the use of autonomous on-demand boats to transport passengers around the Helsinki archipelago.

Launched in partnership with local company Callboats, autonomous electric boats last summer plied a regular route between the islands of Kotiluoto, North Villaluoto and Malkasaari in East Helsinki.

The on-demand vessels could be summoned via a mobile app, in much the same way that rideshare platforms Uber and Bolt operate.

The pilot was undertaken to explore how to support Helsinki’s maritime strategy of promoting the accessibility of its archipelago whilst also reducing emissions from water transport.

Current legislation in Finland mandates that all boats require at least one person behind the wheel during operations, creating challenges in the water transport sector. 

Given the current dire shortage of available captains for water transport, along with the costs involved in hiring them, autonomous water transport could be one feasible solution, the pilot found.

“As much as 60–70 per cent of the costs of archipelago transport come from the captains’ wages,” said Peter Ostberg, the managing director of Mente Marine, the company behind Callboats. “Thanks to the autonomous operation, one captain could operate five callboats, which would offer more profit within the short season and lower prices for consumers.”

“Autonomous on-demand boats would be a more agile, eco-friendly and cost-efficient way of transporting passengers to small islands, compared to ferry transport,” agreed Pekka Koponen, senior specialist at Forum Virium, the City of Helsinki’s innovation company.

“Moving to autonomous boats would reduce costs and allow for investments in new boats. Helsinki water buses are 50–60 years old, on average, and will need to be replaced in the near future,” he added.

Smooth sailing for boating innovations

Oceanvolt is another Finnish company making waves in the electric boating scene, riding a crest of public enthusiasm for more environmentally friendly water transport. The company manufactures electric power and propulsion systems for boats. Its founder, Janne Kjellman, is also behind Q-Yachts, a top-end electric day cruiser.

“We can clearly see that demand is constantly growing,” said Oceanvolt's CEO, Tommi Lassila. “The development is accelerated by environmental regulations and general awareness of environmental issues.”

By: James O’Sullivan