Published on 2022-09-23

Concept Design: Arrival FERRY

Flexing our creativity to solve a modern, metropolitan problem right here in the Netherlands, the MODYN team took to the playground to explore how design could solve a major mobility problem.


Smart and purposefully designed, our Arrival FERRY allows water to be an opportunity rather than a barrier. A system of autonomous compact shuttles that connect either side of the Maas River in Rotterdam, this newly designed transport system by MODYN creates important economic and educational opportunities for residents.

Discover the Arrival FERRY concept design by MODYN

Before we begin, you have to understand a bit about Rotterdam. The second largest city in the Netherlands with 650.000 citizens, Rotterdam is also Europe’s largest harbor. Located near the North Sea, the mouth of the Maas River cuts right through it, splitting the city into a North and South side. 

To make room for an expanding city, the industrial harbor moved towards the sea. New land was then built (Maasvlakte) and areas that were once part of the industrial harbor near the center of the city were turned into much-needed urban living areas. 

However, the geographical layout of the city (with the river splitting North and South) and the many former docks turned into housing blocks, causes problems.

“People living on the former docks need to travel by car all the way down their peninsula to the main road to access the city center,” Ruben van Ommen, Strategy & Concept Designer at MODYN, explained.

But to achieve European climate goals, this journey should be done with sustainable mobility options like bikes or public transport. The problem with Rotterdam, though, is that it has a car-centered infrastructure, so it’s actually really difficult to commute on a bike from these areas. Plus, there’s less access to public transport.”

So, the result is a divided city, illustrated starkly by the water in Rotterdam. It is difficult for people from the former docks to commute to the parts of town where the most well-paying jobs are located. And it is difficult for students to commute to the good schools in town. 

For years, the city government has been trying to improve bicycle infrastructure, accessibility and public transport. But building bridges across the river is expensive and public transport is difficult to arrange without them. Plus, traditional ferries are slow and inconvenient, and therefore not viable. 

Our goal with this concept was to connect the city and create equal opportunity for everyone.

Discover the Arrival FERRY concept design by MODYN

Arrival FERRY is a system of autonomous compact shuttles that feel familiar and intuitive like an elevator — passengers simply open the doors, board, depart, and disembark on the other side. 

FERRY boats are electrically powered and charge via solar panels on their roofs, using induction charging at the docks. They are modularly built and consist of simple, compact elements ideal for production in Arrival’s micro-factories, making them easily adaptable to different cities and environments.

For a city like Rotterdam, the ideal system would use smaller boats with a minimum capacity of 10 people with bicycles. So we designed Arrival FERRY to be smaller and more efficient than traditional, larger ferries. A trip to the other side takes an estimated 10 minutes. And with 4 boats per location, a maximum waiting time of 5 minutes is ensured. 

One of our Concept Designers, Bart Heijt explains it wasn’t so much about reinventing what a ferry is, so much as it was improving upon it to work for this community.

That being said, this modular, nimble system could prove valuable for other communities as well, allowing people to move more freely and easily via waterways.”

The boats are also modular and can be attached to each other, creating larger boats or docks. They can even create a complete road across the water if needed during a large event, or in case of an emergency evacuation. 

The docks are small and have little impact on their environment due to being placed parallel to the quay. This makes them ideal to install at multiple locations throughout the city. Docks can easily be moved to locations where the service is needed most. 

This system reacts to the needs of the citizens and learns over time. It will send more boats to busy locations during rush hours. After time, the artificial intelligence can visualize a complete map of the ideal commuter routes across the water. 

“You might look at this at first and think, ‘This is just a ferry.’ But what we’ve designed here is so much more,” Bart went on to say.

“A modular system that was designed to be fast, flexible and efficient, our team really took the time to understand the transportation barriers in place and how these small, speedy ferries could not only be deployed quickly, but  use the latest technology to provide a truly smarter solution.”

Even though this started as just an exercise for our team, we think Arrival FERRY could have a major impact in the city of Rotterdam by creating equal opportunity for all citizens. As our Managing Director Gert-Jan van Breugel explains, it’s these kinds of challenges that push us to try something new, think outside the box, and put ourselves out there in ways we might not have expected.

While we love problem-solving for a client’s brief, the room to think big and create something for ourselves is always exciting. These concept projects in The Playground are a big part of our company culture — challenging our team to take trends, technology and even challenges they see in their community and design impactful solutions. These playful projects keep us innovating. Creativity is a muscle, after all, and it needs to be flexed.”
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