Autonomous ‘Mayflower’ to Cross the Atlantic using IBM AI Tech

Every school-going kid in the US knows about the Mayflower, and it looks like the name might be responsible for yet another historical feat. To mark the 400th anniversary of the ship that brought the first civilian settlers to the US, marine research and exploration company ProMare, together with IBM, has crafted an autonomous vessel that will make its way across the Atlantic Ocean next year.

The new Mayflower intends to show just how far the march of technology has gotten in the last four hundred years. Decked out with solar panels to refill its batteries as well as wind sails and a diesel engine, the Mayflower is scheduled to set sail in September of 2020. If the trip is successful, it will mark the point where autonomous ships can safely cross the Atlantic on their own. While there’s less risk of death than Charles Lindbergh’s flight, this moment is just as crucial to the annals of history.

What Use is It?

Sending a ship just to sail across the Atlantic without a use case isn’t likely to have many takers. ProMare intends to use the ship as a research vessel on its 3220-mile journey from Plymouth, Massachusetts, to Plymouth, England. IBM’s input into the project has been to offer the use of its PowerAI vision technology that is backed by its Power Server systems. The system will use both RADAR and LIDAR along with optical cameras to get input for navigation processing.

Having autonomous seafaring vessels may change the way we look at exploration. As it stands right now, human beings know more about the reaches of outer space than they know about the depths of their own oceans. Additionally, with AR and VR systems intending to be included, people can have the option to virtually board the Mayflower and witness its travels for themselves, all from the comfort of their own devices.