This would have made the Pilgrims’ arduous journey to the New World a bit easier.
On Thursday an unmanned ocean vessel called the “Mayflower Autonomous Ship” — or MAS400 — is expected to arrive in Plymouth after a roughly 3,500 mile journey from England, similar to that of the European settlers who sailed to Massachusetts more than four centuries ago.
The ship, which navigated the choppy seas on its own by relying on complex onboard computer systems and artificial intelligence, was designed and built through a partnership between IBM and Promare, a marine research nonprofit.
During its ambitious technological journey, the ship, which launched from Plymouth, England, in April, collected data and information to help researchers better understand issues affecting marine wildlife and ocean health, including acidification, microplastics, and global warming, according to project details.
“MAS represents a significant step in fulfilling Promare’s mission to promote marine research and exploration throughout the world,” Ayse Atauz Phaneuf, Promare’s president, said in a statement. “This pioneering mission is the result of years of work and a global collaboration between Promare, IBM, and dozens of partners from across industries and academia.”
Promare, IBM, and their partners have been chronicling MAS400′s voyage through social media updates and a collection of livestream cameras that provide a first-hand account of what it encounters at sea — like the time a school of dolphin swam alongside it.
People can also explore what’s happening on “deck” by using a mission control dashboard on the project’s website.
According to IBM, there are “6 AI-powered cameras, more than 30 sensors, and 15 Edge devices” on the MAS400, which “input into actionable recommendations for the AI Captain to interpret and analyze.”
The technology makes it possible for the ship “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 company said.
The ship is propelled and powered by magnetic electric propulsion motors, batteries, and solar panels on its exterior. It has a backup diesel engine.
While the project has set the stage for future unmanned journeys across the ocean, the ship did encounter some hiccups, researchers said.
The vessel had to make at least two pit stops to deal with technical interruptions, including a problem with its generator and the charging circuit for the generator starter batteries.
The problems prompted diversions to both the Azores and Nova Scotia in May.
MAS has developed a mechanical issue with its generator. The project lead, ProMare, made the decision to bring the ship in to the Azores to investigate and fix it. The IBM technology remains functioning. The team hopes to be back underway with the transatlantic crossing ASAP.— AI Captain - Mayflower Autonomous Ship (@AI_Mayflower) May 9, 2022
Over May 28-29, MAS developed an issue with the charging circuit for the generator starter batteries. On May 30, the team had to switch to the back-up navigation PC. ProMare has made the decision to divert to Halifax, Nova Scotia to investigate and fix these issues. (1 of 2)— AI Captain - Mayflower Autonomous Ship (@AI_Mayflower) May 30, 2022
Still, the teams behind the voyage took the setbacks in stride.
“From the outset our goal was to ‘attempt’ to cross the Atlantic autonomously, all the while collecting vital information about our ocean and climate,” said Brett Phaneuf, who co-created the vessel. “Success is not in the completed crossing, but in the team that made it happen and the knowledge we now possess and will share so that more and more ships like MAS can safely roam our seas and teach us more about the planet on which we live.”
The 10,000 pound vessel left Nova Scotia on June 27 to complete its voyage. It’s expected to arrive in Plymouth Harbor around noon Thursday, where it will be greeted by excited researchers.
As of 6 a.m. (GMT-3) on June 27, 2022, MAS embarked on her journey from beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia to her home port of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Our team is anticipating a June 30, 2022, arrival.— AI Captain - Mayflower Autonomous Ship (@AI_Mayflower) June 27, 2022
Visit https://t.co/dhWUzH9BSk for live progress.#oceanresearch #mas400 pic.twitter.com/Gg2fobcpsk
A welcome ceremony will be held at 3 p.m., as MAS400 docks next to its namesake, the Mayflower II, a replica of the original ship that brought the Pilgrims to America in 1620.
“Throughout the centuries, iconic ships have made their mark in maritime technology and discovery through journeys often thought impossible,” Whit Perry, captain of the Mayflower II, said in a statement. “How exciting to see history being made again on these shores with this extraordinary vessel.”