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Mayflower Autonomous Ship Steering Marine Studies Forward with AI

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS400) made its first attempt to sail in its transatlantic voyage from its base location in Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Massachusetts last month. This is project is an international effort led by IBM and ocean research non-profit ProMare.

However, this unmanned ship just recently returned to its base location for some mechanical repairs. As soon as the team fixes the mechanical issues with the MAS400 that caused its return, it will launch its second attempt to cross the North Atlantic Ocean this year.

The AI captain of the ship

The idea behind this boat-sized autonomous ship is to revolutionize the research methods in marine sciences, without any need for physical human presence on the ship. The MAS400’s transatlantic mission is to collect data regarding environmental issues such as climate change, ocean acidity, plastic pollution, marine mammal conservation, and many more.

Image: IBM

Powered by AI and solar energy, the ship can spend long periods at sea using sensors to analyze the water and listen to the sounds coming from deep below. The MAS400 is the modern take on the first transatlantic voyage of the Mayflower ship in 1620 from England to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The MAS400 is partnered with Iridium Communications Inc. and Thales group to ensure a seamless connection between the automatic vessel and the support team. Brett Phaneuf, the co-founder of ProMare, said that the “Thales VesseLINK 700 powered by Iridium Certus onboard the Mayflower Autonomous Ship provides essential connectivity to backhaul vital science data in real-time from MAS to our team of ocean and climate experts onshore.”

The origin story

In 2016, Brett Phaneuf discussed the idea of building a Mayflower of the 21st century at the 400th anniversary of the 1620 Mayflower voyage. CTO of the Mayflower project and Marine AI Don Scott shared in The Uncharted Podcast about receiving a phone call from Phaneuf regarding the idea of the ship. “I was his first phone call and he said, ‘Hey, Don, we are building an autonomous ship that’s gonna sail across the Atlantic.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, okay! How are we going to do that?'”

Image: IBM

During the podcast, Robert High, CTO of IBM’s Edge Computing business, expounded that AI is good at learning but “that doesn’t mean AI is able to break down a very complex problem that has never been seen before, never been taught. That still is a very unique human intellectual task and is well beyond the limits of where AI is today.” The mission does not aim towards replacing humans, but to facilitate people in ocean research and come up with POAs to fight the current marine crises.

Automated ships such as Yara Birkeland, a fully electric autonomous cargo ship, have been in business for a long time now. Hence, we can see a significant shift in the role of the captain of a ship. Informally known as the AI Captain, is the sole thinking tank of the ship. The role of the captain is that of an advisor. The AI Captain has to understand the environment, identify hazards, and make the decision to calculate a safe route.

YouTube: The Mayflower Autonomous Ship’s journey to transform ocean research using AI and Automation

Photo credit: The images used are owned by IBM and have been provided for press usage.
Sources: Iridium / The Uncharted Podcast (Spotify) / IBM

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Ujala Chowdhry
Hello, I'm a tech journalist here. I did my bachelors in computer science engineering and masters in journalism. Combining the knowledge gained from both my degrees, I have been able to view many facets of technology at TechAcute. I stay healthy by doing yoga and Indian classical dance forms. I would love to hear from the readers about their interests and the tech that intrigues them. Let me know on my Twitter and Instagram profiles.