The World’s First Autonomous Electric Passenger Ferry – Powered by 5G & IoT

Leveraging 5G and IoT to revolutionize urban maritime transportation

For many city residents, ferries lie at the heart of everyday life, offering a quick and convenient way to get around the city while avoiding traffic-snarled streets. But while ferries are a part of many city transportation schemes, too often those ferries are still powered by highly polluting marine diesel. To put it into perspective, each year ferries transport nearly as many passengers as the airline industry and cutting carbon emissions across the board has become a priority, both because residents are demanding greener cities and regulations and laws are requiring it.  

This is where Norwegian company Zeabuz, together with their partner Torghatten, has a solution. Their new ferry, the MF Estelle, was launched in Stockholm in the spring of 2023, and it is the world’s first autonomous electric ferry, built with sustainability at its core – and powered by 5G and IoT.

“What makes Zeabuz different is that we are fully electric, so we have zero emissions,” says Carl Petersson, Autonomy Engineer, Zeabuz. “We are trying to create a network of small electric ferries that are autonomous and that can travel short distances in cities, with very frequent departures. This will create a quick, convenient, and green mobility system to serve city residents.” 

Our business objective is to enable widespread sustainable waterborne mobility through our autonomy solutions, combined with electrification and smart operational concepts.

Carl Petersson Autonomy Engineer, Zeabuz.

The MF Estelle has the capacity to carry 24 passengers per trip. In Stockholm, that trip takes passengers from the island of Kungsholmen, where City Hall is located, across Lake Mälaren to Stockholm’s biggest island, Södermalm, in just seven minutes. If you made that trip by public transport or car, it would take twenty minutes or more, depending on traffic. But twenty-four passengers aren’t really a lot in a city of one million, so one way to counteract relatively low passenger spaces on the ferry is to increase the frequency of trips, as well as the number of ferries running. 

 “Running four or five smaller vessels along the same route means we can compensate for capacity needs, while also creating a better service by offering more frequent departures, similar to the way a subway system runs regularly – if you miss one ferry, another one will be along in a few minutes,” says Carl Petersson.  

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We want to make it really convenient to travel by water in cities like Stockholm, which are built on or alongside waterways, making it an obvious way to get from one point to another.


Zeabuz chose to deploy smaller ferries for a very practical reason: the technology available today makes it very difficult to electrify larger vessels in a viable way.  A bigger vessel needs a bigger battery and the bigger the battery, the heavier the vessel. The only way to make larger vessels work today would be to fit them with smaller batteries and charge at each stop, something that would have a big impact on departure frequency. Basically, the infrastructure isn’t there yet, so the company needs to work with what is available. 

“Our design criteria were clear from the start: we needed to run the ferries throughout the day without needing a charge. Instead, they charge overnight when the ferry isn’t in service, using the charging infrastructure already available. While there are advances being made around charging and battery size, it could be five or ten years before batteries are light enough for bigger boats. By making smaller, very energy efficient ferries, we can get the boats in the water and the mobility system in place, while also preparing for what will eventually be possible.” 

Charging isn’t the only area where Zeabuz is focusing on energy efficiency. The MF Estelle is a catamaran, which is very energy efficient by design – and it’s also made from carbon fiber in order to further reduce weight and thus energy usage.  

Autonomy & technology 

What makes everything possible is autonomy. The largest cost for public ferries is manning them – a ferry captain’s salary is nearly twice as much as a bus driver’s and requires a longer education (five years in Sweden.) Additionally, a lot of captains in Sweden are nearing retirement, while at the same time fewer people are going into the industry. 

“Even when they do go into this line of work, many are not that interested in driving smaller, short-distance ferries in the middle of the city, so the autonomy aspect solves a lot of challenges,” says Carl Petersson. “But we can’t take humans out of the loop entirely – that just isn’t feasible in the long run.” 

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Zeabuz is working towards creating a ‘mobility network’, with several vessels serving the same route, and that will be overseen by one captain who performs all remote operations.

“With one captain monitoring everything remotely, they can step in when needed and take over the vessel remotely, something that would not be possible without 5G capabilities,” says Carl Petersson. “You need 5G because you can’t have any lag – not even a second or two of delay. 5G allows you to have instant control and instant feedback – we would never be able to run an autonomous ferry without 5G – it is essential.” 

Currently, remote monitoring of MF Estelle is one way communication, from the ferry to the company. Eventually, two-way communication will be implemented and 5G will be vital to that enablement. And that is where Zeabuz is working with Tele2 to meet the demands of that next move. 

“Tele2 is a leading player in the connectivity industry, and we need a company we could rely on and that can meet our needs,” says Carl Petersson.  “Of course, we compared Tele2 to competitors, but in the end Tele2 has been more willing to act as a partner. We are creating something new and have very high standards on connectivity, particularly because of the remote controlling of the boat. This means Tele2 also has a stake in making this work and we believe that Tele2 is the partner that we can do this with together, instead of another company who might give us what they have but that is not willing to go those extra steps to ensure success. We know we have a real partner in Tele2 and the team we’ve been working with, particularly Linda Ekener Mägi, who is so passionate and intelligent about her work.” 

Data is stored in Zeabuz’s offices in Trondheim, Norway and at the moment they use two different SIM cards for 5G. One sends small points of data around remote operations, such as current position. The other one is turned on when they want to remote in and grab data and do things like upgrades.  

“Basically, we bag all data from a couple of crossings a day, which is a lot, and then we use that data to look into how the autonomy system is operating. Right now, we use it for development, but it could be used in the future for predictive maintenance or other things, but at the moment we’re totally focused on autonomy.” 

Regulations & safety 

Zeabuz has been running a research project since early 2023 and are now having a meeting with Transportstyrelsen (The Swedish Transport Agency), who are responsible for the final approval, which is needed since this is entirely new technology.  

“They are very positive towards remotely operating and controlling the vessel, although of course passenger safety is the number one concern. Technically, the bar is very high, which is good,” says Carl Petersson. “So, we’re working with ensuring passenger safety remotely from shore and we will likely end up having a person onboard each vessel who is not educated to drive or handle the vessel, but who is educated in passenger safety, such as how to handle life vests and life rafts. In an emergency situation, everything will be handled remotely by the captain, so the person onboard is to act as assistance, similar to what we already have on the train system in Stockholm – a person who works with the passengers separate from the driver of the train. It’s someone who can react quickly and calmly in case of emergency. What we have found is that people react very positively to autonomy, but not as well to unmanned, which are two different things.”  


“Boatplan Stockholm” is a program to convert all Stockholm ferry traffic to and from the city’s archipelago to 100 percent emission-free operations, with electricity or hydrogen as fuel. While this is an ongoing initiative, Zeabuz is something of a gamechanger in the city’s evolution to an environmentally sound and green city.  

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For us, if you’re going to create a new mode of transportation these days – or create anything, for that matter – you are of course going to do it in an environmentally friendly way.

“There’s no reason not to and the tools are there to make it possible, so it was never even a question for us. Sustainability is the way forward, because it’s just where we are as a society,” says Carl Peterson.

The future 

Since the launch of the MF Estelle in the spring, Zeabuz has garnered a lot of attention from around the world. The launch in Stockholm unleashed articles across the globe, from the Nordics all the way to Australia. 

“We are really showing people that is possible now and you need to think about this when doing city planning going forward because it’s going to make life easier for your residents,” says Carl Petersson. “Many cities already have inner-city ferry systems, but many are out of date or using old technology which is often highly pollutant. Our ambition is to expand to the entire world.  

“Our main challenge is getting down the cost of the vessels – we need to get the economics of scale into this picture – so we’re in the middle of negotiations with one of the world’s largest ferry building companies and they are very eager to get this going. They can see that this is the future, and we all know that the way to get the price of production down is to mass-produce them, just like you would do with buses or any other kind of transport.” 

Zeabuz is also in discussions with a number of cities around the world who have seen what they’re doing in Stockholm and are interested in how this could become part of their city’s transport scheme.  

“There are a lot of requirements in play around meeting sustainability goals and those regulations will only get stricter, so our solution fits perfectly into what a city needs to do to meet those requirements and regulations around sustainability, as well as meeting the demands of citizens. This is also a very cost-effective way to do this. It’s not like you have to build a new road or bridge – the water is already there, so it’s relatively small money. A number of municipalities have already reached out to us and we’re already in deep discussions with them.” 

As Zeabuz goes global, 5G will be necessary for the autonomy of the ferries. With Tele2 expanding its 5G roaming footprint, those requirements around autonomy will be met.  

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