Hopscotching the ocean

Those who are interested in American history are well aware of what Mayflower is.
30 September, 2020
This is a three-masted galleon that brought the first settlers from England to the American coast 400 years ago. However, it is also the name of a high-tech vessel that can cross the Atlantic Ocean without a single person on board.
Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS for short), an AI and solar-powered research vessel, which will cross oceans gathering environmental data, was launched off the coast of Plymouth, England on September, 16, coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower departure in 1620. The project is being led by marine research organization ProMare with IBM as the main technology partner.

Autonomous travel will be provided by IBM's AI, advanced servers, cloud and edge computing, powerful batteries, a diesel generator and solar panels. To ensure that the equipment is not damaged during the ocean tour, it was hidden in the most reliable case made of aluminum. The vessel features a trimaran design which is both hydro- and aero-dynamic and highly stable, even in rough seas. Thanks to aluminum and composite materials used in the superstructure, MAS is also very lightweight: about 5 tonnes and 15 meters in length. The ship is designed to achieve a speed of around 20 knots.

The vessel was launched after two years of design, construction, and training of its AI models. It will go on several trial missions over the next six months and then continue with a transatlantic voyage in April 2021, which will be based on a similar route to the 1620 Mayflower. During the 12-day voyage, the trimaran ship will be powered mainly by wind and solar energy.

"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," an IBM spokesperson told Offshore Energy-Green Marine.

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 will start a new era for autonomous research ships.

Banner image: Offshore energy