May 9, 2021

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The first autonomous ship, Mayflower 400, prepares for the voyage past the pilgrim’s route to the New World


The world’s first fully autonomous ship is scheduled to make its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean next month.

Inspired by the ship that brought pilgrims to North America, the ‘Mayflower 400’ will be guided by artificial intelligence rather than a human crew.

If all goes well, it will depart from Plymouth, England on May 15th and arrive in Plymouth, Massachusetts, about 3,000 miles away and two weeks later.

The original Mayflower, which carried 102 pilgrims and other passengers, took 10 weeks to reach its destination in 1620.

Mayflower 400 was scheduled to embark on its transatlantic voyage last September to celebrate Mayflower’s 400th anniversary, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Mayflower 400 is scheduled to embark on its first transatlantic flight by autonomous ship on May 15, 2021. Its flight was originally scheduled for September 2020, the 400th anniversary of the landing at Plymouth Rock, but has been postponed due to the pandemic

The 50-foot Trimaran will take roughly the same path as its old predecessor, but will not carry any passengers or crew.

Pilgrims were fleeing religious persecution and seeking to establish a settlement in the New World when they set sail from Plymouth, England, on September 16, 1620.

Just over 400 years later, the Mayflower 400 will be gathering important scientific data on the ocean.

Powered by solar energy, it was unveiled in 2017 as a partnership between IBM, University of Plymouth, independent trades specialists MSubs, and the nonprofit ProMare Marine Research Organization.

Mayflower 400 (pictured) relies on a built-in AI leader using cameras, radar and Watson, IBM's AI platform

Mayflower 400 (pictured) relies on a built-in AI leader using cameras, radar and Watson, IBM’s AI platform

“The only biggest challenge is the ocean itself,” said ProMare founder Brett Fanov.

“No ship has been built that can survive whatever the ocean may throw at it.”

With no captain or crew on board, Mayflower 400 uses artificial intelligence to traverse the ocean in its quest for data and discovery.

It has an advanced system of cameras and radar to continue learning about its environment.

Rosie Licorish, a specialist in emerging technologies at IBM, told AFP that owning an unmanned vehicle provided an advantage in the “unforgiving environment”.

The interior is different from the original Mayflower: instead of the family and the kitchen, there are only rooms with science experiments set up

The interior is different from the original Mayflower: instead of the family and the kitchen, there are only rooms with science experiments set up

While the Mayflower 400 will not have any human crew or passengers, a team in the UK will monitor the ship 24 hours a day, and be ready to take control of the ship remotely if needed.

While the Mayflower 400 will not have any human crew or passengers, a team in the UK will monitor the ship 24 hours a day, and be ready to take control of the ship remotely if needed.

“Having a ship without people on board allows the scientists to expand the area they can observe,” said Likorech.

A team in the UK will monitor the vessel 24 hours a day, and be ready to take control of the vessel if needed.

Built in Poland to ProMare specifications, the 5-ton ship 50 feet long boasts many features of advanced nautical architecture, all designed to withstand the stress of long voyages at sea.

According to IBM, “the key to putting an autonomous ship at sea, without humans on top of it, is computing technology that can power intelligence on board.”

Mayflower 400 will collect critical data on whale numbers, sea levels, microplastics in the ocean, and other research topics.

Mayflower 400 will collect critical data on whale numbers, sea levels, microplastics in the ocean, and other research topics.

The Mayflower, 1620

Mayflower is original built in Harwich, North Essex

Mayflower is original built in Harwich, North Essex

Duration of the trip: 60 days

Speed: 5 knots (maximum)

Length: 30 m

Weight: 180 tons

Propulsion: wind (three masts)

Crew: 30

Passengers: 102

Navigation system: compass, hourglass, nautical charts, and record line

Mission: transporting pilgrims from England to the New World.

Source: IBM

Mayflower, 2021

The new Mayflower (above) is powered by an AI and solar powered captain

The new Mayflower (above) is powered by an AI and solar powered captain

Duration of the trip: 12 days

Speed: 10 knots (maximum)

Length: 50 feet (15 m)

Weight: 5 tons

Propulsion: Hybrid of wind and solar power, with diesel backup generator

Crew: 0

Passengers: 0

Navigation system: motion and rotation sensors, global navigation satellite system

Mission: Research on marine life, sea levels and ocean pollution.

Source: IBM

Mayflower 400 will collect critical data on whale numbers, sea levels, microplastics in the ocean, and other research topics.

This data will be made freely available to researchers.

The ship relies on an on-board AI captain who uses computer vision, automation software, and Watson, IBM’s AI platform.

The “AI Captain” has been trained with more than a million marine images so that he can identify ships, bridges, land, wrecks and other hazards.

An AI captain can verbally communicate with other ships in the area, briefing them on their approach or passing on other information.

Human operators will program the Mayflower destination, but it will determine its own path, considering weather, ocean currents, collision regimes, and other variables.

The Mayflower operators tell its destination and the vessel is expected to plot the best route, keeping in mind weather, currents, and other variables.  Like the original Mayflower, you'll travel from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, but in much less time.

Ship Mayflower operators tell its destination and the vessel is expected to plot the best route, taking into account weather, currents, and other variables. Like the original Mayflower, you’ll travel from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, but in much less time.

Pictured: A visualization of an AI leader at MAS. An AI leader has been trained with over a million marine photos so he can identify ships, bridges, land and other hazards

Pictured: a visualization of an AI leader at MAS. The AI ​​leader has been trained with over a million marine images so that he can identify ships, bridges, lands and other dangers

MAS can also interact with ocean traffic in real time using a combination of radar, cameras, and an Automatic Identification System (AIS), which transmits information such as Mayflower’s latitude and longitude to other boats.

Vanove said that without humans on board, the ship becomes “a machine, not a floating hotel.”

“If you take the human factor out of ships, it allows you to completely reimagine the design,” he said.

“You can only focus on the ship’s mechanics and function.”

While the original Mayflower was a wooden sailing ship, Goetz Linzenmeier, chairman and founder of Aluship, which built the hull, said the MAS is a “very sophisticated trimaran with a more sophisticated interior”

“In the new Mayflower game, this is also a technological adventure, and fortunately no life is in danger,” Linzenmeier said.

The interior also differs from the living quarters of the original ship: instead of beds, there are rooms with only science experiments.

One would test samples of seawater throughout the voyage and store it in bottles for testing upon the ship’s arrival in Massachusetts.

Numerous experiments have already been carried out on MAS over the past six months prior to its transatlantic voyage.