Crewless Mayflower completes trans-Atlantic voyage

(HALIFAX, Nova Scotia) — Following two years of design, construction and artificial intelligence (AI) model training, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) was officially launched in September 2020. On Sunday, MAS completed its historic trans-Atlantic voyage from Plymouth, United Kingdom, to North America, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

With no human captain or onboard crew, MAS is the first self-directed autonomous ship with technology that is scalable and extendible to traverse the Atlantic Ocean.

MAS was designed and built by marine research nonprofit ProMare, with IBM acting as lead technology and science partner. IBM automation, AI and edge computing technologies powered the ship’s AI captain to guide the vessel and make real-time decisions while at sea.

After 40 days and approximately 3,500 miles at sea, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship arrived in North America in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Sunday. IBM photo

On board the ship, there are six AI-powered cameras, more than 30 sensors and 15 edge devices, all of which input into actionable recommendations for the AI captain to interpret and analyze. This makes it possible for the AI captain to adhere to maritime law while making crucial split-second decisions, like rerouting itself around hazards or marine animals, all without human interaction or intervention.

The AI captain has learned from data, postulates alternative choices, assesses and optimizes decisions, manages risk, and refines its knowledge through feedback, all while maintaining the highest ethical standards – which is similar to how machine learning is applied across industries like transportation, financial services and healthcare.

Furthermore, there’s a transparent record of the AI captain’s decision-making process that can help humans understand why the captain made certain decisions.

The first attempt by MAS to cross the Atlantic to Plymouth, Mass., in June 2021 was hindered by technical glitches, forcing the boat to return to its home port in the U.K.

It set off again on April 27 bound for Virginia, but a generator problem forced a diversion to the Azores, where a team member flew in to make repairs. In late May, MAS developed a problem with the charging circuit for the generator’s starter batteries, and it was diverted to Halifax.

– IBM and news reports


By Rich Miller