“Putting a research ship to sea can cost tens of thousands of dollars or pounds a day”
A global group has formed in order to build the world’s first fully-size autonomous research vessel, which will recreate the 1620 journey of the Mayflower colony ship.
IBM, the University of Plymouth and marine research firm ProMare have begun the development of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) which will attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean in September of 2020.
The ship will be equipped with IBM Power System accelerated servers as well as RADAR, automated identification systems and LIDAR sensors. These sensors on the vessel will help it navigate the ocean enabling it to detect hazards like ships, buoys and debris.
That data will be crunched by the on-board servers allowing the ship to determine the best course forward at an optimal speed. The AI model is being trained in Plymouth Sound, a bay on the English Channel, where it is being fed real-world data and images to help it determine risks and the best avoidance measures.
Next year marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage. The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth in 1620, landed on the shores of America 66 days later.
Brett Phaneuf Founding Board Member of ProMare, who lives in Plymouth, UK, wrote in blog that: “Plymouth Council held some meetings to brainstorm ideas for how to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage that was coming up in September 2020. Someone suggested building a replica of the original Mayflower ship. That really didn’t make much sense to me. I figured why not use the opportunity to advance into the future rather than reminisce about the past? That was when the idea of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship was born.”
Mayflower Autonomous Ship Research Goals
During its voyage the ship will be tasked with collecting data for several research projects and will carry three research pods on-board that are equipped with a host of sensors and scientific instrumentation.
ProMare, a non-profit corporation and public charity, will work with the University of Plymouth to study plastic pollution in the ocean and its effect on the ocean’s ecosystem.
As the ship traversers the Atlantic, IoT and edge devices will be constantly collecting data and storing it on-board till the ship encounters edge nodes that are located on shore. Once in range the ship will transmit its data to these nodes, which will then upload the data to the IBM cloud.
Professor Richard Thompson, OBE, Director of the Marine Institute, University of Plymouth commented that: “Microplastics present a substantial challenge to our oceans. Over 700 species come into contact with marine litter which is found from the poles to the equator, and estimates are that the quantity of plastic in the oceans will triple in the decade to 2025. The Mayflower Autonomous Ship gives us the opportunity to rethink how to collect data and further our understanding of this global issue.”
The University of Birmingham is also contributing to the project as it will develop virtual reality technologies that will be placed on board so interested parties and school children can experience the voyage of the Mayflower as it cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Brett Phaneuf notes that: “Putting a research ship to sea can cost tens of thousands of dollars or pounds a day and is limited by how much time people can spend onboard – a prohibitive factor for many of today’s marine scientific missions. With this project, we are pioneering a cost-effective and flexible platform for gathering data that will help safeguard the health of the ocean and the industries it supports.”