We hope that you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving, whether you are reading this while taking a break from shopping or are just relaxing on a day off. Of course you know the story behind Thanksgiving and it starts with the Puritans fleeing Europe and making the dangerous journey across the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower before settling in Plymouth, Massachusetts. 

Of course they were not the first Europeans to arrive in the New World as the English and Spanish had colonies in the New World or even the Norse explorers but they may be the most famous. No one after all is celebrating holidays around the good folks down at Jamestown. The journey here has almost reached mythical proportions.

Mayflower 400th

Next year is the 400th anniversary of that journey and to commemorate it that journey is going to be reattempted. Unlike the Mayflower though no people will be coming along. The Mayflower Autonomous Ship will launch from Plymouth, England and will be piloted not by human hands but instead by AI.

The ship will be capable of machine learning and equipped with LIDAR, radar, GPS, satellites and GPS to give it the information needed to make split second decisions as it crosses the Atlantic. The ship is being built by the Marine research organization ProMare and IBM is developing the technology. It is intended that the ship will follow the same 3,220 mile journey of 400 years in the past.

Mayflower Autonomous Ship

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship is a trimaran, which has one slender hall to optimize propulsion efficiency with two other hulls for stability and to provide surface area for the solar panels that will power the vessel. The ship will also be able to run on wind power and it has a backup diesel generator should it be necessary. It is under construction in Gdańsk, Poland and should be completed and delivered to Plymouth in February 2020. 

This could be a groundbreaking undertaking. Autonomous ships already exist but many still have crews on board just in case they need to take over or when a human hand is needed. This ship will not have that. That allows for the normal crew space that would be needed for human crew quarters and living space to be used for something else. In this case while the Mayflower is crossing the ocean it will also conduct oceanographic research sampling the ocean for microplastics and other research led by the University of Plymouth. AI may be considered a sailor the same way it has become an artist and a farmer.

A True Test Of AI

The vessel will be monitored from Plymouth and for a time they will be able to take control of the vessel should it be necessary but once the Mayflower passes the Isles of Scilly and enters the Atlantic Ocean they will not be able to. At that point the connection to the Internet is not going to be guaranteed and IBM’s operational decision making (ODM) technology will take over. As it crosses the ocean it is expected that there will be long blackouts from the Internet making AI decision-making technology the only way that this project could be completed.

The Mayflower’s collision avoidance system will help it get out of the busy Plymouth harbor but likely will not be needed in the vast expanse of the Atlantic. Despite that there are major risks, mostly from the weather and because of that another first on this endeavor was accomplished as the Mayflower was insured by the Norweigan insurance company Gard, the first time that a fully autonomous vehicle has been insured. 

The Mayflower played a major role in our history. Some of the most famous people in our history can trace their ancestors back to the Mayflower from presidents to award winning actors to famous writers and more. It is also believed that the ship itself is still in existence, having its timbers recycled to build a barn in England in Buckhamshire, England on the Old Jordans Estate. Also of note nearby is the grave of the founder of Pennsylvania William Penn

So, what will happen if the Mayflower Autonomous Ship decides to stay in the US?

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top