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Mayflower launch gets ship tech community buzzing

Ocean research non-profit ProMare and American tech giant IBM today launch the high-profile Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) – an artificial intelligence and solar-powered marine research vessel which will traverse oceans gathering environmental data. The vessel is named after a pioneering ship which crossed the Atlantic in the 17th century.

Following two years of design, construction and training of its AI models, the fully-autonomous trimaran will be launched from Plymouth on the south coast of the UK later today.

This small ship is a microcosm for every aspiring 21st century business

MAS features an ‘AI Captain’ built by ProMare and IBM developers which gives the vessel the ability to sense, think and make decisions at sea with no human captain or onboard crew. The new class of marine AI is underpinned by IBM’s latest advanced edge computing systems, automation software, computer vision technology and Red Hat Open Source software.

“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,” said Andy Stanford-Clark, chief technology officer, IBM UK & Ireland. “With its ability to keep running in the face of the most challenging conditions, this small ship is a microcosm for every aspiring 21st century business.”

To enable followers around the world to stay updated with MAS as it undertakes its various missions, IBM and ProMare have launched a new interactive web portal. Built by IBM iX, the business design arm of IBM Services, the MAS400 portal is designed to provide real-time updates about the ship’s location, environmental conditions and data from its various research projects.

MAS will spend the next six months in sea trials and undertake various research missions and voyages before attempting to cross the Atlantic next spring. MAS’s transatlantic voyage will be based on a similar route and pioneering spirit to the 1620 Mayflower which made the same crossing 400 years ago.

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Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.

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