It’s time for the Mayflower Autonomous Ship

It’s time for the Mayflower Autonomous Ship

A fully-autonomous, AI powered marine research vessel to self-navigate across the Atlantic autonomously.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) will trace the route of the original 1620 Mayflower to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the famous voyage.

Sailing from Plymouth, UK, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, with no human captain or crew, it will become one of the first full-sized, fully autonomous vessels to cross the Atlantic. The mission will further the development of autonomous ships and transform the future of marine research.

IBM and marine research organisation Promare will conduct the trial on a manned research vessel off the coast of Plymouth, UK.

The aim is to evaluate how the vessel uses its onboard AI and edge computing systems to safely navigate around ships, buoys and other ocean hazards that it is expected to meet during its record-breaking attempt on 16 September.

Don Scott, CTO of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, said: "While the autonomous shipping market is set to grow from $90bn today to over $130bn by 2030*, many of today's autonomous ships are really just automated - robots which do not dynamically adapt to new situations and rely heavily on operator override.

"Using an integrated suite of IBM's AI, cloud, and edge technologies, we are aiming to give the Mayflower full autonomy and are pushing the boundaries of what's currently possible."

Our Ocean Planet
The World Ocean contains more than half of all life on Earth, covers over 70 percent of its surface and contains 97percent of its water. It regulates the Earth’s climate and acts as a crucial sink of excess heat and carbon.

If we want to protect it, we have to understand it. If we want to understand it, we need more data about it.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) is a grass roots initiative led by marine research non-profit ProMare with support from IBM and a global consortium of partners. Working in tandem with oceanographers and other vessels, MAS provides a flexible, cost-effective and safe option for gathering critical data about the ocean. It can spend long durations at sea, carrying scientific equipment and making its own decisions about how to optimize its route and mission.

With no human captain or onboard crew, MAS uses the power of AI and automation to traverse the ocean in its quest for data and discovery.

The ship’s AI Captain performs a similar role to a human captain. Assimilating data from a number of sources, it constantly assesses its route, status and mission, and makes decisions about what to do next. Cameras and computer vision systems scan the horizon for hazards, and streams of meteorological data reveal potentially dangerous storms. Machine learning and automation software ensure that decisions are safe and in-line with collision regulations.

Small, lightweight edge devices provide just enough local compute power for the ship to operate independently, even without connectivity or remote control. When a connection becomes available, the systems sync with the cloud, enabling updates and data upload.

Click here for a video to learn more

Click here for more on the Mayflower 400 Commemoration Programme