VIDEO: Autonomous Mayflower will carry research pods, not pilgrims

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Image: University of Plymouth

IBM (NYSE: IBM) has joined the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) project, a global consortium of partners, that is building an unmanned, fully-autonomous ship that will cross the Atlantic on the fourth centenary of the original Mayflower voyage.

The vessel is being designed by Whiskerstay Ltd (Naval Architects) and M Subs Ltd, both with a long pedigree developing manned and unmanned marine vehicles. The hull began construction at Aluship Technology in Poland on September 2, 2019. It will be delivered to Plymouth, England, in Spring 2020 to undergo final fit-out and sea-trials

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) will begin its journey on September 6 2020 and cross the Atlantic Ocean, from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Mass. Like the original Mayflower in 1620, MAS will rely to some extent on favorable weather to complete its crossing as it will be powered by state-of-the-art hybrid propulsion system, utilizing wind, solar, state-of-the-art batteries, and a diesel generator.

MAS will carry three research pods containing multiple sensors that scientists will utilize to conduct presearch in meteorology, oceanography, climatology, biology, marine pollution and conservation, and autonomous navigation.

The ship will use IBM’s AI, most powerful servers, cloud and edge computing technologies to navigate autonomously and avoid ocean hazards as it makes its way from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The project is led by marine research organization ProMare

“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,” said Brett Phaneuf, a Founding Board Member of ProMare and Co-Director of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project (together with fellow Board Member Fredrik Soreide). “With this project, we are pioneering a cost-effective and flexible platform for gathering data that will help safeguard the health of the ocean and the industries it supports.”

“IBM helped put man on the moon and is excited by the challenge of using advanced technologies to cross and research our deepest oceans,” said Andy Stanford-Clark, Chief Technology Officer, IBM UK & Ireland. “By providing the brains for the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, we are pushing the boundaries of science and autonomous technologies to address critical environmental issues.”

AI and Other Advanced Technologies at the Helm

By pairing IBM PowerAI Vision technology with IBM Power Systems accelerated servers , IBM is helping ProMare to build learning models capable of recognizing navigation hazards which come into view in MAS’s on-board video cameras. Trained on real data and images from the Plymouth Sound in the U.K, MAS will be capable of recognizing hazards such as buoys, debris and other ships and will have constant situational awareness thanks to radar, AIS and LIDAR.

When a hazard is detected, MAS will use IBM’s Operational Decision Manager software to help decide autonomously whether to change course or, in case of emergencies, speed out of the way drawing additional power from its on-board back-up generator.

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