An unmanned robotic boat retracing the Mayflower’s 1620 sea voyage has landed near Plymouth Rock. The sleek, self-contained Mayflower encountered an escort boat as it approached the Massachusetts shore on Thursday, more than 400 years after its namesake’s historic voyage from England. It was towed into Plymouth Harbor – under US Coast Guard rules for bareboats – and moored near a replica of the original Mayflower that brought the Pilgrims to America.
Piloted by artificial intelligence technology, the 50-foot (15-meter) trimaran had no captain, navigator or human on board.
The solar-powered ship’s first attempt to cross the Atlantic in 2021 was plagued with technical problems, forcing it to return to its home port of Plymouth, England.
He left the English coast in April but mechanical difficulties diverted him to the Portuguese islands of the Azores and then to Canada. “When you don’t have anyone on board, obviously you can’t make the necessary mechanical and physical repairs,” said Rob High, a software manager at IBM who helped work on the project. “It’s also part of the learning process. On Monday, he left Halifax, Nova Scotia for a successful 4-day voyage to Plymouth Harbour.
The non-profit marine research organization ProMare worked with IBM to build the ship and used it to collect data on whales, microplastic pollution and for other scientific research. Small experimental autonomous vessels have already crossed the Atlantic but researchers describe it as the first vessel of its size to do so.
Completing the voyage “means we can begin to analyze data from the ship’s voyage” and dig deeper into the performance of the AI system, High said. He said the prospect of such unmanned vessels sailing the seas continuously will make it easier to collect “all sorts of things that marine scientists are interested in”.
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