Solar Boat Concept Reimagines Public Ferries

Separating the propulsion unit from the transport unit of public water transport systems is a unique concept, but one that designers from Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland appear to be very comfortable with. And no wonder; the nation of Finland is separated from its counterpart Scandinavian countries by a narrow band of water that suggests – even encourages – ferrying from one land mass to another.

For designers Vladimir Abramov, Antti Rautavuori and Jokke Katajamäki, the main considerations of their design, the HKI Seabus, were not travel so much as customer comfort, and for that reason they separated the propulsion medium – the actual ferry – from the passenger medium, which enabled them to combine transport and waiting spaces, giving passengers waiting for a crossing a shelter in which to wait, sip coffee, work at laptops, or store bikes for the crossing.

HKI Seabus

Image via Behance

In addition, the propulsion units are then freed to ferry either goods or people across the water, depending on the time of day and the primary source of traffic. For example, in the morning and evening the propulsion boats would be busy ferrying passenger boats back and forth across the water. In the middle of the day, on the other hand, very few passengers waiting to cross means the ferry boats could instead push, or pull, cargo.

The entire HKI Seabus proposal is aimed at reviving waterways as public transport, and to that end designers sought to reimagine the operating principles surrounding transportation infrastructure. This involves identifying bicycle and pedestrian routes, creating adjustable (expandable) interior spaces which shrink or expand depending on weather, and visually integrating the HKI Seabus transport units with existing public transportation (shared logos, color schemes, etc.). The design that Abramov, Rautavuori and Katajamaki settled on allows for up to 12 bicycles on deck, roughly 18 passenger seats, and at least four Internet-ready sockets where passengers can plug in laptops.

In addition, the facilities are all on one level, meaning they are wheelchair- and baby buggy-friendly. The HKI Seabus also incorporates solar panels on the roof of the barge and propulsion units to power the propulsion unit’s electric motor and provide heat and lighting as needed. It’s not quite as lavish as the all-electric Chinese solar ferry we reported on last September, but it’s a step in the right direction.