Beginning next month, an artificially intelligent (AI) ship will begin sailing across the Atlantic Ocean on the same 3,000-mile journey that the Mayflower took 400 years earlier.
In September of 1620, a merchant ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, with 102 passengers that included almost 40 “Saints” who were Protestant Separatists, all on their way to the New World for a better life.
And now, a little over 400 years later, a new ship powered by artificial intelligence will set sail on the exact same voyage. The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) will take off from Plymouth, England, on April 19th and is scheduled to arrive in Plymouth, Massachusetts about two weeks after. This will be a much shorter voyage as the original Mayflower took 66 days to reach its destination.
The MAS is a 5-ton, 50-foot ship that was made in partnership with autonomous craft specialists MSubs, tech firm IBM, public charity ProMare, and the University of Plymouth. It will not carry any passengers or crew members during its upcoming voyage and will be powered by artificial intelligence and solar energy. The focus of this new trip will be to collect important scientific data about the ocean like how many whales are living in the water.
The construction of the MAS is very different from the original Mayflower as the new vessel has been described as being a “machine rather than a floating hotel” and a “highly-sophisticated trimaran with an even more sophisticated interior”. Since there won’t be any humans on board, where the bathrooms and beds would normally be located, the rooms are instead set up for scientific experiments.
Humans, however, will program the vessel on where to sail and then estimate how long it will take to reach its destination based on ocean currents, weather, and other factors. The AI Captain has been programmed to recognize over a million nautical images such as debris, ships, bridges, and land. It will also have cameras, radar, and Automated Identification System (AIS) on board which will let other boats know its location.
Brett Phaneuf, who is the co-founder of ProMare, stated what the biggest obstacle the new ship will encounter, “The single biggest challenge is the ocean itself,” adding, “No ship has ever been built that can survive whatever the ocean could throw at it.”
Several pictures of the MAS can be seen here.