IBM’s Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS400) has set sail across the Atlantic ocean without a crew or human control. The autonomous trimaran left Plymouth, England on June 15 and hopes to reach Plymouth, Massachusetts in about three weeks.
The voyage of the robotic Mayflower follows the path of the original Mayflower, which brought the Pilgrim settlers to New England in 1620. The 50-foot long, 20-foot wide craft is made of aluminum and carbon composites, displaces five tonnes, and is propelled by a solar-powered hybrid motor with a diesel backup, giving it a top speed of 10 knots.
Supervised by a command center in Plymouth, UK, the Mayflower navigates using over 50 sensors, including six IBM AI Vision cameras and an IBM deep learning system to identify and avoid obstacles, hostile currents, and bad weather while adhering to international navigation rules. Data processing is by onboard computers backed up by an IBM Power Systems AC922 onshore.
Onboard is a scientific payload of 1,500 pounds that includes acoustic, nutrient, and temperature sensors, as well as water and air samplers. These are gathering scientific data to help with future studies of ocean chemistry, acidification, sea level height and wave patterns; microplastics; and marine mammal conservation, among other topics. In addition, the autonomous technology could find applications in shipping, oil and gas industries, telecommunications, security, defense, fishing, and aquaculture.
Scuttlebutt Sailing News, 20 June 2021. Text and video.