AI-Driven Unmanned Research Vessel ‘Mayflower’ Launched in England

Mike Schuler
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September 17, 2020

Image credit: IBM

One of the world’s first fully autonomous vessels has been launched and is ready to traverse the world’s oceans in order to gather vital data to help scientific research on critical issues impacting the marine environment.

Technology giant IMB announced the launching of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship on Wednesday. The vessel was developed along with the ocean research non-profit ProMare.

After two years of design, construction and training of its AI models, the new fully-autonomous trimaran has now been lifted into the waters off the coast of Plymouth, England ahead of its official launch today.

According to IMB, the solar-powered vessel is designed to provide a safe, flexible and cost-effective way of gathering data about the ocean to help scientists understand issues such as global warming, micro-plastic pollution and marine mammal conservation. ProMare is co-ordinating the scientific studies working with IBM Research and a number of leading scientific organizations.

The “Mayflower” features an AI Captain developed by ProMare and IBM which gives the vessel the ability to sense, think and make decisions at sea independently with no human captain or crew interaction. The new class of marine AI is underpinned by IBM’s latest advanced edge computing systems, automation software, computer vision technology and Red Hat Open Source software.

“Able to scan the horizon for possible hazards, make informed decisions and change its course based on a fusion of live data, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship has more in common with a modern bank than its 17th century namesake,” said Andy Stanford-Clark, Chief Technology Officer, IBM UK & Ireland. “With its ability to keep running in the face of the most challenging conditions, this small ship is a microcosm for every aspiring 21st century business.”

To coincide with the launched, IBM and ProMare have also launched a new web portal designed to provide real-time updates about the ship’s location, environmental conditions and research data.
“ is one of the most advanced ocean mission web portals ever built,” says Fredrik Soreide, Scientific Director of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project and Board Member of ProMare. “Protecting the ocean depends on our ability to engage the public in important matters affecting its health. This MAS400 portal is designed to do exactly that and tell people where the ship is, what speed it’s travelling at, what conditions it’s operating in and what science we are conducting. Users can even help Artie the Octopus fish out surgical masks, cigarette butts and other increasingly common forms of ocean litter from a virtual ocean of facts and data.”

The 15-meter MAS is equipped with a solar-driven hybrid electric motor and comes with a top speed of 10 knots

The vessel will now spend the next six months in sea trials and undertake various research missions and voyages before attempting to cross the Atlantic in Spring 2021, retracing the 1620 crossing made by the Mayflower now 400 years ago.

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