IBM will send an autonomous research vessel across the Atlantic next year

IBMIBM hopes the unmanned vessel will allow for safe and cost-effective marine research.
  • IBM launched an artificial intelligence-powered marine-research vessel called the Mayflower Autonomous Ship.
  • Developed alongside ocean-research organisations, the vessel will help scientists study issues like climate change and pollution.
  • It will attempt to cross the Atlantic in spring 2021.
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Four centuries after the original ship crossed the Atlantic in 1620, a new Mayflower is set to take its maiden voyage. IBM and ProMare, an ocean-research nonprofit, launched a new uncrewed, solar-powered research vessel called the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, the companies announced on Tuesday.

IBM developed the Mayflower as a “safe, flexible and cost-effective way of gathering data about the ocean,” the company said. The ship will help scientists from ProMare, IBM Research, and other organisations study climate change, micro-plastic pollution, and marine-mammal conservation, among other issues.

The Mayflower has what IBM calls an “AI Captain,” which allows it to take in information and make decisions without any humans aboard. IBM said the Mayflower operates at level-five autonomy — meaning it can work without any human intervention — thanks to more than 30 sensors and six AI cameras.

“Able to scan the horizon for possible hazards, make informed decisions and change its course based on a fusion of live data, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship has more in common with a modern bank than its 17th century namesake,” Andy Stanford-Clark, the chief technology officer at IBM UK and Ireland, said in the announcement.

MASinWater 15IBMIBM and ProMare announced a website that lets people keep up-to-date with the ship’s movements.

IBM and ProMare also announced an interactive website, the MAS400 portal, that will provide live updates on the vessel’s whereabouts, environmental conditions, and other data.

“Protecting the ocean depends on our ability to engage the public in important matters affecting its health,” Fredrik Soreide, scientific director of the Mayflower project and board member of ProMare, said. “This MAS400 portal is designed to do exactly that and tell people where the ship is, what speed it’s travelling at, what conditions it’s operating in and what science we are conducting.”

The Mayflower will undergo testing for the next six months before embarking on its first transatlantic voyage in spring 2021.

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