Mayflower Autonomous Ship set to be launched next week

CGI Visualisation of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship at sea; Image courtesy: IBM

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS), one of the world’s full autonomous ships, will be officially launched on September 16th in Plymouth, UK.

Image courtesy: IBM

The project is led by marine research organization Promare, with IBM as technology partner. Finnish technology company Wärtsilä has joined also joined the global consortium earlier this year.

“The trimaran vessel will then spend the next 6 months in sea trials and will undertake various research missions and voyages before attempting to cross the Atlantic in Spring 2021,” an IBM spokesperson told Offshore Energy-Green Marine.

“Designed to provide a safe, flexible and cost-effective way of gathering data about the ocean, the new-generation Mayflower promises to transform oceanography by working in tandem with scientists to understand critical issues such as global warming, micro-plastic pollution and marine mammal conservation.”

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MAS’s transatlantic voyage will be based on a similar route and pioneering spirit to the 1620 Mayflower which made the same crossing 400 years ago. The passengers onboard, mainly Christian Puritans, became known as pilgrims.

However, this time around the vessel will be using IBM’s AI, advanced servers, cloud and edge computing technologies to navigate autonomously and avoid ocean hazards as it makes its way from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Image courtesy: IBM

During the 12-day voyage, the trimaran ship will be powered mainly by wind and solar energy.

The scientific research work will be coordinated by the University of Plymouth, UK, which will be analyzing water samples from MAS as it sails across the Atlantic to understand more about the origin, distribution, and potential impact of microplastics in the ocean.

The UK’s University of Birmingham will be responsible for the use of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies in the MAS mission.

If successful, it will be one of the first self-navigating, full-sized vessels to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the project developers believe this would open the door on a new era of autonomous research ships.

The trimaran vessel was constructed in Gdansk, Poland.

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The vessel features a trimaran design which is both hydro- and aero-dynamic and highly stable in rough seas. Using aluminum and composite materials, MAS will be very lightweight: about 5 tonnes and 15 meters in length. The ship will be designed to achieve a speed of around 20 knots.

As explained by Brett Phaneuf, a Founding Board Member of ProMare and Co-Director of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, putting a research ship to sea can cost tens of thousands of dollars or pounds a day and is limited by how much time people can spend onboard – a prohibitive factor for many of today’s marine scientific missions.

This project could serve as a cost-effective and flexible platform for gathering data that will help safeguard the health of the ocean and the industries it supports.