The first autonomous ship, Mayflower 400, is preparing for a journey along the pilgrimage route to the New World

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The world’s first fully autonomous vessel will make its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean next month.

Inspired by the ship that brought the Pilgrims to North America, ‘Mayflower 400’ will be guided by artificial intelligence rather than a human crew.

If all goes well, it will depart from Plymouth, England on May 15th and arrive in Plymouth, Massachusetts, approximately 3,000 miles and two weeks later.

The original Mayflower, carrying 102 pilgrims and other passengers, took 10 weeks to reach its destination in 1620.

The Mayflower 400 was scheduled to embark on its transatlantic cruise last September for the Mayflower’s 400th anniversary, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Mayflower 400 will embark on the first transatlantic journey by an autonomous vessel on May 15, 2021.  The trip was originally scheduled for September 2020, the 400th anniversary of the landing at Plymouth Rock, but has been delayed due to the pandemic.

The Mayflower 400 will embark on the first transatlantic voyage by autonomous vessel on May 15, 2021. The trip was originally scheduled for September 2020, the 400th anniversary of the landing at Plymouth Rock, but has been delayed due to the pandemic.

The 50-foot trimaran will follow roughly the same route as its old predecessor, except it will not carry passengers or crew.

The pilgrims escaped religious persecution and were trying to establish a settlement in the New World when they set out from Plymouth, England, on September 16, 1620.

A little over 400 years later, the Mayflower will collect 400 critical scientific data about the ocean.

Powered by solar energy, it was unveiled in 2017 as a collaboration between IBM, the University of Plymouth, autonomous craft specialists MSubs and the non-profit marine research organization ProMare.

Mayflower 400 (pictured) relies on a built-in AI captain using cameras, radar and Watson, IBM's AI platform

Mayflower 400 (pictured) relies on a built-in AI captain using cameras, radar and Watson, IBM’s AI platform

“The biggest challenge is the ocean itself,” says ProMare founder Brett Phaneuf.

“No ship has ever been built that can survive anything the ocean can throw at it.”

With no captain or crew on board, Mayflower uses 400 AI to cross the ocean in search of data and discoveries.

It has an advanced system of cameras and radar to keep learning about its surroundings.

Having an unmanned vessel provided an advantage in the “ brutal environment, ” Rosie Lickorish, an emerging technology specialist at IBM, told AFP.

The interior is different from the original Mayflower: instead of beds and a galley, only rooms with science experiments have been set up

The interior is different from the original Mayflower: instead of beds and a galley, only rooms with science experiments have been set up

While the Mayflower 400 will not have a human crew or passengers, a team in the UK will monitor the ship 24 hours a day, ready to remotely take control of the ship if necessary.

While the Mayflower 400 will not have a human crew or passengers, a team in the UK will monitor the ship 24 hours a day, ready to remotely take control of the ship if necessary.

“With a ship without people on board, scientists can expand the area they can observe,” Lickorish said.

A team in the UK monitors the ship 24 hours a day, ready to take control of the ship if necessary.

Built in Poland to ProMare’s specifications, the 5-ton, 15-meter vessel incorporates many advanced maritime architecture features, all designed to withstand the stress of long voyages at sea.

“The key to getting an autonomous ship out to sea, without people at the helm, was computer technology that could power intelligence on board,” IBM said.

The Mayflower 400 will collect critical data on whale populations, sea levels, ocean microplastics and other research topics.

The Mayflower 400 will collect critical data on whale populations, sea levels, ocean microplastics and other research topics.

The Mayflower, 1620

The original Mayflower was built in Harwich, North Essex

The original Mayflower was built in Harwich, North Essex

Travel time: 60 days

Speed: 5 knots (max)

Length: 30m

Weight: 180 tons

Propulsion: Wind (three masts)

Crew: 30

Passengers: 102

Navigation system: a compass, an hourglass, sea charts and a log line

Mission: To transport pilgrims from England to the New World.

Source: IBM

The Mayflower, 2021

The new Mayflower (above) is powered by an AI captain and solar power

The new Mayflower (above) is powered by an AI captain and solar power

Travel time: 12 days

Speed: 10 knots (max)

Length: 50 feet (15 m)

Weight: 5 tons

Propulsion A hybrid of wind and solar energy, with a diesel emergency generator

Crew: 0

Passengers: 0

Navigation system: motion and rotation sensors, global satellite navigation system

Mission: To investigate marine life, sea level and ocean pollution.

Source: IBM

The Mayflower 400 will collect critical data on whale populations, sea levels, ocean microplastics and other research topics.

These data are made available to researchers free of charge.

The ship relies on an onboard AI captain who uses computer vision, automation software and Watson, IBM’s AI platform.

The ‘AI Captain’ was trained with over 1 million nautical images so that he can recognize ships, bridges, land, debris and other hazards.

The AI ​​captain can verbally communicate with other ships in the area to warm them of his approach or convey other information.

Human operators will program the Mayflower’s destination, but it will set its own course, taking into account the weather, ocean currents, collision rules, and other variables.

The ship operators tell the Mayflower its destination and the ship is expected to chart the best course, taking into account the weather, currents and other variables.  Like the original Mayflower, it travels from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, but in considerably less time

The ship operators tell the Mayflower its destination and the ship is expected to chart the best course, taking into account the weather, currents and other variables. Like the original Mayflower, it travels from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, but in considerably less time

Pictured: A visualization of MAS's AI captain.  AI Captain was trained with over 1 million nautical images so that it could recognize other ships, bridges, land and other hazards

Pictured: A visualization of MAS’s AI captain. AI Captain was trained with over 1 million nautical images so that it could recognize other ships, bridges, land and other hazards

MAS can also respond to ocean traffic in real time using a combination of radar, cameras and the Automated Identification System (AIS), which sends information such as the latitude and longitude of the Mayflowers to other boats.

Without people on board, the ship becomes “more of a machine than a floating hotel,” Phaneuf said.

“If you take the human factor out of ships, you can completely rethink the design,” he said.

‘You can focus purely on the mechanics and function of the ship.’

While the original Mayflower was a wooden sailing vessel, MAS is a “highly sophisticated trimaran with an even more sophisticated interior,” said Goetz Linzenmeier, chairman and founder of Aluship, who built the hull.

‘In this new Mayflower this is also a technological adventure, fortunately no life is at stake,’ says Linzenmeier.

The interior is also different from the living quarters of the original ship: instead of beds, there are only rooms with scientific experiments.

Samples of seawater will be tested during the voyage and kept in bottles for a staff member to inspect when the ship arrives in Massachusetts.

The MAS has already made several test drives in the past six months prior to its transatlantic journey.

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