September 18, 2020

Credit: IBM / Promare

We have an update to our story about the Mayflower Autonomous Ship. The vessel launched on September 16 from Plymouth, England but, because of delays caused by the pandemic, its commemorative voyage to Plymouth, Massachusetts is now scheduled for April 2021. Until then, the ship will undertake a number of smaller trips and research missions. .

This year marks four centuries since the Mayflower’s historic voyage from Plymouth, England to Plymouth Rock. To commemorate the journey, amid proposals to build a replica, a different sort of idea rose to the surface: sailing an unmanned ship along the same route that the Mayflower took. Brett Phaneuf, director of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship Project, discusses how the project took off, and what it could mean for the future of the shipping industry and our understanding of the oceans. 

Three Takeaways:

  • After the ship’s trip from England to America later this year, it will continue as a research vessel. With support from IBM, universities and agencies will be able to use the ship to study whales, ocean surface height (which reflects climate change), and more.
  • Automation is taking over the entire shipping industry, which has huge benefits when it comes to safety. With fewer people aboard, the potential for casualties becomes greatly reduced.
  • An autonomous ship doesn’t run the same risks as a self-driving car -- out on the open ocean, there aren’t any pedestrians to injure. On boats, then, artificial intelligence can be used far more expansively: to navigate, to gather information, and to teach itself how to function even more effectively.

More Reading:

  • Autonomous and robotic technologies aren’t limited to transportation and factories. In fact, they could be used to fight the coronavirus and other future pandemics. 
  • The new Mayflower is going to be used for all sorts of ocean research. Check out this New York Times article on what AI is contributing to the world of oceanography. 
  • How much do you actually remember from your third grade history class? Refresh your memory on the Mayflower’s story here, because you never know when it’ll come up at trivia night.

Mayflower, Sci and Tech, driving, self driving, sailing

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