The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS), a fully-autonomous trimaran, was launched into the waters off the coast of Plymouth, England. The launch follows two years of design, construction, and training of the ship’s AI models.

Designed to provide a safe, flexible, and cost-effective way of gathering data about the ocean, the new-generation Mayflower, say the organizations, promises to transform oceanography by working in tandem with scientists and other autonomous vessels to help understand critical issues such as global warming, micro-plastic pollution, and marine mammal conservation. ProMare is coordinating the scientific studies working with IBM Research and a number of leading scientific organizations.

“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,” says 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.”

The ship features an “AI Captain” built by ProMare and IBM developers that gives the MAS the ability to sense, think, and make decisions at sea with no human captain or onboard crew. 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. The ship features six AI-powered cameras, 30 sensors, 15 edge devices, and zero humans on board.

To enable followers around the world to stay updated with the MAS as it undertakes its various missions, IBM and ProMare have launched a new interactive web portal – the MAS400 portal. Built by IBM iX, the business design arm of IBM Services, the portal is designed to provide real-time updates about the ship’s location, environmental conditions, and data from its various research projects. Live weather data will be streamed from The Weather Company, as the MAS is receiving forecast data and insight from the new IBM Weather Operations Center.

The portal, say the organizations, even features a seven-armed, “stowaway octopus” chatbot called Artie, who claims to be hitching a ride on the ship. Powered by IBM Watson Assistant technology and created in partnership with European start-up Chatbotbay, Artie has been trained to provide information about MAS and its adventures in a lively, and accessible format.

“ 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,” says Soreide. “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 MAS will spend the next six months in sea trials and undertake various research missions and voyages before attempting to cross the Atlantic in Spring 2021. Its transatlantic voyage will be based on a similar route and pioneering spirit to the 1620 Mayflower, which made the same crossing 400 years ago.


Related articles:
AI ‘captain’ of autonomous ship to begin sea trials
IBM joins autonomous ship project
Intel, Rolls-Royce partner on autonomous shipping
Autonomous ship guidance system combines probabilistic modeling, AI
Robot ship to navigate Pacific in 2019


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