Following two years of design, construction, and AI model training, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) was officially launched in September 2020. Now, the crewless vessel designed to recreate the Mayflower’s historic journey across the Atlantic 400 years ago has crossed the ocean.
The Mayflower Autonomous Ship completed a historic transatlantic voyage from Plymouth, UK, to its North American arrival in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on June 5. In the voyage lasting 40 days, the ship conquered approximately 3,500 unmanned miles (5,600 km) at sea. With no human captain or onboard crew, MAS is the first self-directed autonomous ship with technology that is scalable and extendible to traverse the Atlantic Ocean.
The MAS was designed and built by marine research non-profit ProMare with a number of global partners on board, including Nvidia and IBM. IBM automation, AI, and edge computing technologies power the ship’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Captain to guide the vessel and make real-time decisions while at sea.
The 50ft (15m) long solar-powered trimaran is capable of speeds of up to 10 knots (20km/h) and has 6 AI-powered cameras, more than 30 sensors, 15 Edge devices, navigation tech, and a weather station. All this makes it possible for the AI Captain to adhere to maritime law while making crucial split-second decisions, like rerouting itself around hazards or marine animals, all without human interaction or intervention.
In June 2021, the vessel set sail on its historic journey across the Atlantic, but the attempt was abandoned after just three days of cruising due to a problem with the ship’s hybrid solar-electric/diesel propulsion system.
After investigations, repairs, and fresh on-water testing, the crewless vessel again set off from the UK on April 29 and had been expected to take about three weeks to make the journey. However, it again suffered some technical issues before the decision was made at the end of May to direct the ship to Halifax.
The AI Captain has learned from data, postulates alternative choices, assesses and optimizes decisions, manages risk, and refines its knowledge through feedback, all while maintaining the highest ethical standards. IBM believes that MAS’s experimental voyage will be a catalyst for the advancement of AI and AI-powered automation at the edge in various applications across the industry.
The Mayflower’s journey began in the Atlantic. But this voyage of discovery and technological advancement is only just beginning.