AI-powered Mayflower Autonomous Ship sets sail across the Atlantic

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) fitted with software developed by IBM is now in international waters as it begins to cross the Atlantic Ocean on its voyage on Tuesday.

The autonomous ship was completed and officially launched in September 2020, 400 years after the original Mayflower left the maritime city to cross the Atlantic. With no human captain or onboard crew, the ship is the world’s first unmanned, fully autonomous, AI-powered marine research vessel that sails across the Oceans to collect critical environmental data regarding climate change, ocean acidity, plastic pollution marine mammal conservation, and more.

The sailing of this ground-breaking new ship in 2021 reflects the voyage undertaken 400 years ago when the original Mayflower left Plymouth to journey to America. The journey across the Atlantic ocean is expected to take approximately three weeks. If successful, the ship is expected to land in Provincetown, MA, then make its way to the U.S. port of Plymouth.

The autonomous ship was built by a nonprofit marine research organization named ProMare in partnership with the computer-tech giant IBM and dozens of partners from across industry and academia. This modern-day ship with a state-of-the-art navigation system, positioning technology, and a stealth structure may not look like the vessel that set sail 400 years ago, but its innovative spirit will have an equivalent influence on marine exploration.

The Mayflower Autonomous Research is powered by state-of-the-art wind and solar technology, with a backup diesel generator. IBM’s automation, AI, and edge computing technologies help it make decisions about what to do next while at sea without human help. The ship uses radar and GPS to navigate, while six cameras attached to the mast serve as the ship’s ‘eyes’ by feeding into an AI image recognition system that helps it avoid oncoming ships and other hazards.

Additionally, the revolutionary trimaran vessel carries onboard a variety of drones through which it will conduct experiments during its voyage.

MAS has spent the last several months in sea trials and various research missions to prepare for the big journey.

The project aims to aid the development of fully autonomous AI systems and applications for use in a variety of industries such as shipping, oil, and gas, telecommunications, security and defense, fishing, and aquaculture.

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