Wärtsilä joins Mayflower Autonomous Ship project

Finnish technology company Wärtsilä has joined a global consortium of partners working on the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) project.

Mayflower
Photo: IBM

Retracing the voyage of its famous 17th-century namesake vessel, the Mayflower autonomous ship is set to become one of the world’s first fully autonomous, unmanned vessels to cross the Atlantic.

Led by marine research organisation ProMare, the project is developing autonomous systems that can later be deployed commercially, offering a window into the future of shipping and marine research.

Information technology company IBM is providing the AI, cloud and edge computing, and power systems behind the Mayflower’s AI Captain that will enable the vessel to sense, think and make decisions at sea.

Wärtsilä will provide its RS24 system, a high-speed, high-resolution FMCW K-Band radar (24GHz) designed to provide high levels of situational awareness – especially in densely populated marine environments.

As explained, the RS24 radar system will work in tandem with the Mayflower’s onboard cameras, AIS, and navigational systems as a core part of the AI Captain. The AI Captain constantly evaluates the Mayflower’s environment and long-term goals and modifies the ship’s course in order to avoid debris and storms which could threaten the ship at sea.

The RS24 is already established as one of the primary sensors onboard the Wärtsilä IntelliTug – the first commercial Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship, which underwent successful trials in Port of Singapore waters last year.

According to Wärtsilä, RS24 has a five times higher resolution than existing marine S and X-Band radars with spin cycles of 60 rpm. This enables resolution separation of small crafts in crowded waters, especially in close proximity to the vessel, and will allow the Mayflower to navigate safely in complex situations. By identifying potential hazards, and through fusing data with that from the video recognition and AIS, the Wärtsilä system helps produce a high-fidelity map of the operating area.

“Our team has followed the development of technologies applicable to ship autonomy, and when selecting systems for the Mayflower project, we quickly recognised that the Wärtsilä RS24 was the perfect radar solution. Having Wärtsilä as a partner really helps the project; they understand the marine environment and how the various instruments should be designed, deployed, operated and maintained, plus they have tremendous experience in integrating systems,” Brett Phaneuf, Co-Founder of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship Project, commented.

“We are pleased to provide our latest, high-resolution radar technology, the RS24, as an integral component of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project. This will form the primary instrument for acquiring and tracking targets, and maintaining situational awareness at a scale that allows for early path planning and hazard reduction,” Sasha Heriot, Business Development Manager, Wärtsilä Voyage, said.

The new-generation Mayflower is set to take to water for sea trials in the summer of 2020.

 It is anticipated that when completed, the Mayflower voyage will represent a major step forward in bringing autonomous shipping to realisation. The Mayflower will support the development of a flexible and cost-effective platform for oceanographic research. It will also act as a testbed for new navigation software, renewable energy, and propulsion systems for marine vessels.

At 15 metres in length and weighing a mere 5 tons, the Mayflower is small and fast. Performing nimble manoeuvres to avoid other ships and marine debris, the Mayflower is expected to benefit from a highly responsive short-range radar to help detect and avoid potentially show-stopping objects in the water.

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