AI, AI, Captain! How the Mayflower Autonomous Ship will cross the Atlantic

While self-driving cars have hogged the headlines for the past few years, other forms of autonomous transport are gaining steam.

This month, IBM and Promare — a U.K.-based marine research and exploration charity — will trial a prototype of an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered maritime navigation system ahead of a September 6th venture to send a crewless ship across the Atlantic Ocean on the very same route the original Mayflower traversed 400 years ago.

The original Mayflower ship, which in 1620 carried the first English settlers to the U.S., traveled from Plymouth in the U.K. to what is today known as Plymouth, Massachusetts. Mayflower version 1.0 was a square-rigged sail ship, like many merchant vessels of the era, and relied purely on wind and human navigation techniques to find its way to the New World. The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS), on the other hand, will be propelled by a combination of solar- and wind-generated power, with a diesel generator on board as backup.

Moreover, while the first Mayflower traveled at a maximum speed of around 2.5 knots and took some two months to reach its destination, the upgraded version moves at a giddy 20 knots and should arrive in less than two weeks.

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