A Scientific ‘Mayflower’ Will Sail The Atlantic Without Crew, 400 Years After The Pilgrims Feat

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The ship will link the two Plymouths, from England and the United States, on a journey that will collect data on the health of the ocean and accumulate experience for a future with more autonomous ships.

Four hundred years later, a new Mayflower will sail the Atlantic in a feat that will not be carried out by humans, like that of 1620. Quite the contrary. The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) will depart from Plymouth (England) next September and will sail to Plymouth, Massachusetts (United States), on a trip commanded by a single crew member: Captain Artificial Intelligence (IA) . The company, complex from a technological point of view, is not recreational and aims to obtain scientific data for oceanographic knowledge and also to accumulate experience to calm the waters for a future – not so distant – of commercial navigation without crew … or with the essential crew .

“The Mayflower’s mission is to expand man’s knowledge of the oceans, break down the barriers that exist in marine research, and help scientists understand important issues such as climate change and deteriorating ocean health in everyone, ”explains Stefanie Chiras, vice president and general manager RHEL of Red Hat, for Lifestyle Magazine , who is involved in the sophisticated process of bringing this science fiction-like ghost ship from port to port .

Because the design of this ship is more like an interstellar ship than a ship designed to sail the seas. “For the Mayflower to make it through this journey, we needed a highly efficient and robust design. For this reason, we opted for one in the shape of a trimaran, which is both hydro and aerodynamic, with the advantage of being highly stable in rough seas, “says Chiras.

The ship is made of aluminum and composite, materials that make it very light and resistant: “It weighs about 5 tons and is about 15 meters long, that is, it is half the length and weighs less than 3% than the original Mayflower” The original trip was made in about 60 days, while it is scheduled for this afternoon 12. The first one traveled at a maximum speed of 2.5 knots (4.5 kilometers per hour) and this one is capable of sailing at 20 knots (36 kilometers per hour).

The Mayflower Pilgrims’ Odyssey of 1620 has a strong symbolic charge. It was one of the first trips destined primarily for the embarkation of passengers, a part of which ventured across the Atlantic with the mission of building Paradise in the New World. They were opponents – separatists , in the terminology of the time – to the creation and consolidation of the Anglican Church by Henry VIII .

In some reports they are described as puritans , but in reality they were Protestants who called themselves saints – about forty of the total 102 passengers – who crossed the pond with the intention of founding a new church. This trip is also considered as one of the founding moments of a territory that more than a century and many later colonial wars – plus another civil one – would be called the United States. The Mayflower reference is frequently heard in political speeches and in many television series dialogues.

The futuristic Mayflower will sail thanks to the energy provided by the wind and its solar batteries, as well as having a backup diesel generator in case circumstances require it. The ship’s navigation system is a technological brain, and the success of the expedition largely depends on it. It is a more complex version of the “autonomous systems of today’s manned ships”, which act “like cocapitans, maintain visualization of the environment, provide recommendations and support in crew decision-making.”

“Think of it as Augmented Intelligence : machines that help people navigate efficiently and safely and reduce the risk of both environmental and human factors. This will allow human beings to lift their heads – Chiras says – and leave computer screens, look out the window and do what they do best: make difficult decisions quickly and accurately. ”

The oceanic trimaran uses an integrated suite of Artificial Intelligence (AI), cloud data and IBM edge technologies and “a series of interrelated cognitive systems that allow you to feel, think and make decisions at sea.” The captain IA ” used onboard cameras to collect visual information and identify potential hazards such as, ships or other floating debris in the water .”

The boat’s design “features a central mast that helps us keep essential GPS and communications systems high above the water. In addition, it helps to increase the visibility of other ships, since a hit with another ship in the middle of the Atlantic would be a catastrophe. ” There will be many times when the Mayflower will not have access to high seas bandwidth. When this happens, the data will be stored on the ship and when the internet connection is restored, it will be uploaded “and synchronized with the IBM cloud”.

The Mayflower’s brain has two interrelated ways of acting. The Autonomy Manager, for decision making “according to the long-term objectives” and the Safety Manager, for the short term , “who monitors these decisions and validates them as ‘safe’ in the immediate moment”. The ship’s vision system “is being developed and trained, using Deep Learning models on land, and running on the IBM power system , powered by Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), the industry-leading enterprise Linux platform According to Chiras.

A Scientific 'Mayflower' Will Sail The Atlantic Without Crew, 400 Years After The Pilgrims Feat

A computer recreation shows the difference in design and size of the ship that sailed in 1620 and the one that will sail in September.

Quite a technological challenge that aims to serve as an experience for autonomous maritime commercial transport, which is expected to grow from the current 80,000 million euros of business to more than 114,000 million in 2030. The experience of this experiment on the high seas should help to perfect the application of AI to autonomous navigation, with less crew, although it depends on the business: “For example, it may not make sense to replace the entire crew of a container ship with a fully autonomous system because the cost of the crew actually represents very little in the overall value of the ship and its cargo ”, Chiras analyzes.

The Mayflower has been built in a shipyard in the Polish town of Gdansk. The cost is something that remains a secret for the participating companies: “We can say that it is a non-profit mission, led by a charity, Promare, which is paying for and directing the construction of the ship. Some funding – Stefanie Chiras reveals for Magazine Lifestyle – also comes from people in Plymouth, UK, and other cities through a crowd funding initiative, launched several years ago. IBM, Red Hat and other companies are engaged in the commercial and technological area. “


Source: La Vanguardia