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Washington Post, Woody Johnson launches Mayflower


IBM MAYFLOWER - According to their websites, this trimaran navigates using an AI Captain, where the boat is unmanned, but it appears that docking (tying up) is accomplished manually - looking at this picture. Whereas for more complete autonomy, docking should perhaps also be an autonomous function. We think this will become an essential feature in ports of the future, if solar ships are to be able to compete with bunker fuelled leviathans.



The Mayflower is a relatively low budget autonomous trimaran controlled by an AI Captain, considering the hi specification of instrumentation onboard. The AI Captain is not too dissimilar to 'Captain Nemo' and 'Hal' on the Elizabeth Swann.


The Promare team are proposing crossing the Atlantic autonomously in 2021, to set the first record, hence the name Mayflower, as in the start of something big. After the Atlantic, the team have said they want to attempt a circumnavigation. Presumably then, they will have to stop for diesel fuel at various waypoints along the way - that will include docking autonomously - otherwise the journeys will not have been unmanned. They will have been manned at cast off, and manned at the destination, when tying up in harbours or ports - hence semi-autonomous. At least that is our thinking, at the present time.


An autonomous (unmanned) circumnavigation of the globe was first proposed in 2012/13 by Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd, but because the vessel proposed would be able to travel continuously without the need to stop for fuel, such event would have been truly autonomous.


A developed form of IBM's AI Captain may make such a proposal a reality for other teams with similar ambition, such as the Cleaner Ocean Foundation, where they took up the torch when Bluebird Marine ceased trading.


The Elizabeth Swann uses an autonomous navigation system called Captain Nemo with computer AI software called "Hal" after Stanley Kubrick's  Space Odyssey 2001, inspired by Arthur C Clarke's short stories. 




AUTONOMOUS CONCEPT: The Swann is a 53 meter yacht (in effect), making it the largest solar powered, energy autonomous vessel in the world. The onboard AI is called Hal, and the autopilot system is called Captain Nemo, after Jules Verne's fabulous adventure, beautifully adapted for the screen in Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.



Andy Stanford-Clark, chief technology officer for IBM U.K. and Ireland, is quoted by CNBC, that the Mayflower relies on an onboard AI Captain which uses computer vision, automation software and Watson technology — IBM’s most notable AI platform. 

The ship’s operators tell the Mayflower where they want it to go and then it will figure out how to get there itself, considering the weather, ocean currents, collision regulations and other variables. The Mayflower can react to ocean traffic in real time using a combination of radar, cameras, and the Automated Identification System (AIS), which transmits information such as the Mayflower’s latitude and longitude to other boats, that should also obey the rules of  the road, known as COLREGS.

On the Mayflower, their AI Captain does not control every aspect of the vessel, but the program does play a significant role in the ship’s operations.  Along the way, its AI captain will have to make complex decisions in response to wind, waves, vessels and unknown surprises.




FLEETMON 14-9-2020 - Ever since tech giant IBM joined hands with ProMare and the Finnish Wärtsilä to develop one of the world’s full autonomous ships, the internet has been abuzz with their activities.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) is one of the most high-profile initiatives striving to revolutionise a 10,000-year-old transportation format. Any breakthrough in this project has the possibility to massively transform the way commercial shipping operates.

Drones have replaced traditional jets in the sky. Tesla's autonomous cars are disrupting the automobile industry. So now, the question arises: Why don't we see the same on our waters? 




DIESEL POWERED - The next step for this IC powered concept, is to become zero emission. We are sure that was the intention, according to the artwork that was published during the initial crowd funding campaign. The final version bears little resemblance, but it is still a major achievement, in getting the boat in the water in 4 years since the 2016 crowdfunder. 




In many ways, IBM is testing the water for the future of autonomous blue water shipping with the Mayflower.

The autonomous shipping market could be a $135 billion industry by 2030.

Stanford-Clark is quoted as saying that he believes AI captains could be used to “look over the shoulder” of a human captain.

“That same technology that we’re putting in Mayflower will also be able to operate in a guardian angel sort of mode. There’s a huge amount of interest in this technology from big shipping companies."

He believes there’s a “big opportunity” for container ships to become autonomous in the future, adding that it would help to keep supply chains open during pandemics. 








Brett Phaneuf, managing director of M Subs, is quoted as saying:

“Once it goes across the Atlantic it will go for a complete circumnavigation of the world. It will have marine AI on it with a command centre in Plymouth. The goal is for it not to be here too much, but to be out around the world.”

Ayse Phaneuf, president of the ProMare Foundation, which will own MAS, said: 

“It takes autonomous marine vessels to a new level and opens up countless scientific possibilities. We have made considerable progress over the past three years, and it is exciting to now see our vision taking shape as we continue preparations for the crossing next September.”

Professor Kevin Jones, executive dean of science and engineering at the University of Plymouth, said:  “It also raises the bar in terms of autonomous vessels, a world first that could set the standard for others in the field to follow.”






The current energy autonomous (solar powered) transatlantic record holder is the Tûranor PlanetSolar, seen below. Note, this boat was manned, not crewless. Nevertheless, with an autopilot and collision avoidance sensors, in our view, she would easily make it across the Atlantic Ocean - from one waypoint to another in unmanned mode. But in 2012, the technology was not so freely available. Today, several companies offer full COLREGS compliant navigation systems.





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