A Fully Autonomous Ship Will Set Sail across the Atlantic Ocean

The IBM ship will cross from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

A Fully Autonomous Ship Will Set Sail across the Atlantic Ocean
A CGI Visualiztion IBM/University of Birmingham

A fully autonomous ship will soon retrace the path of a 400-year-old journey from the United Kingdom to the United States.

The AI vessel, which will emulate the Mayflower's voyage, is being built by a U.K.-based team, with help from tech firm IBM.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship, also known as MAS, will launch from Plymouth in the U.K. in September of next year.

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400 years later

MAS's voyage is set to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the pilgrim ship that brought European settlers to America in 1620.

Those settlers most likely could not have even imagined that, 400 years later, human beings would be able to send a crewless ship, steered only by an artificial mind that could draw information from hundreds of ships that sailed the same route after the Mayflower.

And yet, that's what's happening with IBM providing Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems for the Mayflower Autonomous Ship. 

A Fully Autonomous Ship Will Set Sail across the Atlantic Ocean
Source: IBM/University of Birmingham’s Human Interface Technologies Team (HIT)

The ship is being built by ProMare, a non-profit corporation and public charity that promotes marine research and exploration throughout the world's oceans.

The University of Birmingham is also part of the project and is "responsible for the use of virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies," according to an IBM press release.

The power of AI

As the BBC reports, the AI-powered vessel will make its own decisions on the best course to take and which routes to avoid.

The sensor technology guiding MAS includes light detecting and ranging (LIDAR), radio detecting, and ranging (RADAR), GPS, satellites, and cameras. 

The original Mayflower journey, which set sail from Plymouth, U.K., in 1620 on September 6, with around 100 passengers and 30 crew members, took over two months to reach the U.S.

The new AI-updated version of the Mayflower, with zero passengers and crew members, will take approximately two weeks to cross the Atlantic.

The ship will test ocean samples as it crosses the Atlantic in order to help understand microplastics and their origin, distribution, and potential impact.

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