An autonomous version of the historical Mayflower ship that’s powered by artificial intelligence (AI) is set to make is maiden voyage across the Atlantic next month.
On April 19, Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) will depart from Plymouth, England and arrive at Plymouth, Massachusetts about 3,000 miles and two weeks later.
The original ship, which transported 102 passengers known as the Pilgrims, took 10 weeks to reach its destination in the autumn of 1620.
The new 50-foot ship, which won’t carry any human passengers or even crew, will roughly take the same route as its predecessor.
When they set sail from Plymouth, England, on September 16, 1620, the Pilgrims were escaping religious persecution and sought to establish a settlement in the New World.
Just over 400 years later, the MAS will gather critical scientific data about the ocean’, powered by AI and solar energy.
MAS (pictured) relies on an onboard AI Captain which uses computer vision, automation software and Watson technology – IBM’s most notable AI platform. The ship’s operators tell the Mayflower where they want it to go and then it will figure out how to get there itself, considering the weather, ocean currents, collision regulations and other variables
MAS was first revealed in 2017 and was supposed to sail last September to mark the anniversary before plans were delayed due to coronavirus.
It’s been made in partnership with University of Plymouth, autonomous craft specialists MSubs, tech firm IBM and public charity Promare which promotes marine research and exploration throughout the world.
‘The single biggest challenge is the ocean itself,’ said Brett Phaneuf, co-founder of ProMare.
‘No ship has ever been built that can survive whatever the ocean could throw at it.’
With no human captain or onboard crew, MAS uses AI and automation to traverse the ocean in its quest for data and discovery.
Built in Poland to ProMare’s specifications, the 5-ton, 50-foot-long vessel incorporates many advanced marine architecture features, all designed to withstand the stresses of extended trips at sea.
MAS has already been on several smaller voyages over the last six months ahead of its transatlantic voyage
IBM says: ‘The key to putting an autonomous ship at sea, without humans at the helm, was computing technology that could power onboard intelligence’
The Mayflower – 2020
The new Mayflower is powered by an AI Captain
Journey time: 12 days
Speed: 10 knots (max)
Length: 50 foot (15m)
Weight: 5 tons
Propulsion A hybrid of wind and solar energy, with diesel backup generator
Navigation system: Motion and rotation sensors, Global Navigation Satellite System
Mission: Research our oceans and pioneer a new generation of research ships.
The Mayflower – 1620
The original Mayflower was built in Harwich, North Essex
Journey time: 60 days
Speed: 5 knots (max)
Weight: 180 tons
Propulsion: Wind (three masts)
Navigation system: A compass, an hourglass, nautical charts and a logline
Mission: Carry pilgrims from England to the New World.
MAS will gather ‘critical’ data about the ocean, such as whale numbers, using its microphones and sampling water for traces of plastic.
The vessel relies on an onboard AI Captain that uses computer vision, automation software and Watson technology – IBM’s AI platform.
AI Captain was trained with more than 1 million nautical images so it could recognise ships, debris, bridges, pieces of land and other hazards.
Human operators will program the Mayflower on where to travel and then it will figure out how to get there itself, considering the weather, ocean currents, collision regulations and other variables.
MAS can also react to ocean traffic in real time using a combination of radar, cameras, and the Automated Identification System (AIS), which transmits information such as the Mayflower’s latitude and longitude to other boats.
A visualisation of MAS’s AI Captain. AI Captain was trained with more than 1 million nautical images so it could recognise ships, debris, bridges, pieces of land and other hazards
MAS will mark four centuries after white Europeans stepped off the Mayflower (pictured) and onto America’s shores
Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899. The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony
Without humans on board, the ship ‘becomes a machine rather than a floating hotel’.
‘If you take the human factor out of ships, it allows you to completely reimagine the design,’ said Phaneuf.
‘You can focus purely on the mechanics and function of the ship.’
While the original Mayflower was a wooden, lightly-armed sailing vessel, MAS is a ‘highly-sophisticated trimaran with an even more sophisticated interior’, said Goetz Linzenmeier, chairman and founder of Aluship, which built the hull.
‘In this new Mayflower this is also a technological adventure, fortunately no life is at risk,’ said Linzenmeier.
The interior is also different from the living quarters of the original ship.
The interior is also different from the living quarters of the original ship. Instead of beds and bathrooms, there are just rooms with science experiments setup
Instead of beds and bathrooms, there are just rooms with science experiments setup.
One for water analysis that will test samples of seawater throughout the journey and store in bottles for a human worker to inspect when arrives on land.
MAS has already been on several smaller voyages over the last six months ahead of its transatlantic voyage.
The Mayflower is one step closer to sailing from England to Plymouth – but this time it will be without a crew
In 2016, the city of Plymouth proposed commemorating the upcoming 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s journey with a replica of the ship.
‘When the city of Plymouth talked about building a replica of the original Mayflower, I told them there already is one in Massachusetts – I grew up not too far from it,’ said Phaneuf.
‘Instead, [I said] we should speak to the next 400 years of the maritime enterprise. Let’s be inspired by what the Pilgrims did and jump off into a new beginning.’
The voyage Mayflower is arguably one of the most important dates in American history, the day the first 102 Pilgrims arrived from England to what we now know as Plymouth, Massachusetts on November 21, 1620.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MAYFLOWER AND THE ENGLISH PILGRIMS
The Mayflower story began when a small group of separatists fled England for Holland in 1608.
The group was a mix of those seeking to earn their fortunes in the fish and beaver trade and a small band of Puritans – Christians who had chosen to separate themselves from the Church of England.
They were known as Separatists whose beliefs put them at odds with the established church, led by James I.
Eventually, the group became disgusted by the ‘licentiousness’ of the Dutch city of Leiden and decided to settle in Virginia, as England’s American colony was known.
They arranged to sail on the ships Mayflower and Speedwell to the New World.
The Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts and the subsequent interactions between the British and the Wampanoag tribe significantly shaped the building of America
The Mayflower was a three-masted ship, most likely between 90 and 110 feet long.
The ship was hired in London, and sailed from London to Southampton in July 1620 to begin loading food and supplies for the voyage–much of which was purchased at Southampton.
The Mayflower then left Holland on 31 July 1620, joining the Speedwell in Southampton, England, for the voyage to America.
The two ships sailed on 15 August but returned because of the leaky condition of the Speedwell.
The Speedwell was eventually abandoned, and on 16 September, 102 passengers and around 30 crew aboard the Mayflower finally sailed from England.
The voyage itself across the Atlantic Ocean took 66 days, from their departure on September 16 (Old Style September 6), until Cape Cod was sighted on November 19 (Old Style November 9) 1620.
Those on board would have slept on the floor in cramped conditions, amid the horrific odours of unwashed bodies, stale wine and vomit.
The arrival of the British Pilgrims all those centuries ago had a devastating impact on the Native Americans – the effects of which are still held today – who have inhabited Massachusetts for 12,000 years
Buckets were used for chamber pots in which passengers relieved themselves if the weather was too bad to go off the side of the ship.
The group’s diet consisted of salt beef or pork, oatmeal and rice and butter and cheese.
After more than two months at sea, the Mayflower dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on November 21.
The travellers who disembarked were starving, exhausted and riven with disease.
A sailor boy was the only member of the group to die during the journey.
However, another five died while the Mayflower was at anchor at the Cape Cod harbour for several weeks. Another 45 of the original Pilgrims died in that first winter.
Of the 18 women who boarded the Mayflower at Plymouth, only five survived.
Of the 102 passengers Mayflower brought to New England in 1620, 32 were children.
While nearly half of the ship’s passengers did not survive the winter of 1620/1621, it is believed there were fewer deaths among the children, which meant the struggling colony had more chance of flourishing.
Upon arriving in America, the meeting between the Mayflower Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Tribe was an encounter that would go on to shape the history of the US.
The Wampanoag people inhabited the land known as Patuxet, now known as Plymouth, for more than 12,000 years.
They had a form of sovereign governance, which influenced the structure of the modern U.S. government, and a network of 69 villages across what is now Massachusetts.
The Pilgrims arrival in Plymouth began years of coexistence when the Wampanoag people assisted them in planting, hunting and protection. The Pilgrims allied with the Wampanoag to protect against opposing tribes.
It was a three-day festival, to celebrate the harvest after the first winter, that became the basis for the American Thanksgiving holiday.
Historically, the agreement they had for more than a half century was the only evidence of an alliance between colonists and Native people on record.
This agreement disintegrated as more and more colonists arrived and imposed English law and acquired their land.
After this period, the fate of Native Americans became a tragic chapter in history and the effects are still felt today.