ProMare is building an unmanned,
fully-autonomous ship that will cross the Atlantic on the fourth
centenary of the original Mayflower voyage in September 2020.
The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) will use IBM's AI, most powerful
servers, cloud and edge computing technologies to navigate autonomously
and avoid ocean hazards as it makes its way from Plymouth, England to
Plymouth, Massachusetts. If successful, it will be one of the first
self-navigating, full-sized vessels to cross the Atlantic Ocean and will
open the door on a new era of autonomous research ships.
"Putting a research ship to sea can cost tens of thousands of dollars or
pounds a day and is limited by how much time people can spend onboard –
a prohibitive factor for many of today's marine scientific missions,"
said Brett Phaneuf, a Founding Board Member of ProMare and Co-Director
of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project (together with fellow Board
Member Fredrik Soreide). "With this project, we are pioneering a
cost-effective and flexible platform for gathering data that will help
safeguard the health of the ocean and the industries it supports."
Andy Stanford-Clark, Chief Technology Officer, IBM UK & Ireland, added:
"IBM helped put man on the moon and is excited by the challenge of using
advanced technologies to cross and research our deepest oceans. By
providing the brains for the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, we are pushing
the boundaries of science and autonomous technologies to address
critical environmental issues."
The vessel will carry three research pods containing an array of sensors
and scientific instrumentation that scientists will use to advance
understanding in a number of vital areas such as maritime cybersecurity,
marine mammal monitoring, sea level mapping and ocean plastics. The work
will be coordinated by the University of Plymouth, UK, who are at the
forefront of marine and maritime research, with support from IBM and
Ocean Plastics – A Major Concern
According to a study conducted by One Poll on behalf of IBM in the UK,
more Brits are concerned about plastics in the ocean than any other form
of plastic pollution, and 80% are worried about microplastics ending up
in the food we eat. The University of Plymouth – a global authority in
microplastics - will lead research to advance understanding in this
critical area, analyzing water samples from MAS as it sails across the
Atlantic to understand more about the origin, distribution and potential
impact of microplastics in the ocean.
According to Professor Richard Thompson, OBE, Director of the Marine
Institute, University of Plymouth "microplastics present a substantial
challenge to our oceans. Over 700 species come into contact with marine
litter which is found from the poles to the equator, and estimates are
that the quantity of plastic in the oceans will triple in the decade to
2025. The Mayflower Autonomous Ship gives us the opportunity to rethink
how to collect data and further our understanding of this global issue."
Also coming on board is the UK's University of Birmingham which will be
responsible for the use of virtual, augmented and mixed reality
technologies in the MAS mission. Birmingham's Human Interface
Technologies (HIT) Team is leading the development of a Mixed Reality
Telepresence Science Station which will allow school children and
members of the public around the world to experience the transatlantic
AI and Other Advanced Technologies at the Helm
By pairing IBM PowerAI Vision technology with IBM Power Systems
accelerated servers (the same technology used by the world's most
powerful supercomputers), IBM is helping ProMare to build deep learning
models capable of recognizing navigation hazards which come into view in
MAS's on-board video cameras. Trained on real data and images from the
Plymouth Sound in the UK, MAS will be capable of recognizing hazards
such as buoys, debris and other ships and will have constant situational
awareness thanks to RADAR, AIS (Automated Identification Systems) and
LIDAR – the same technology used in autonomous cars.
a hazard is detected, MAS will use IBM's Operational Decision Manager
software to help decide autonomously whether to change course or, in
case of emergencies, speed out of the way drawing additional power from
its on-board back-up generator. Fusing data from nautical maps, sensors
and weather forecasts, MAS will be able to determine the optimal path
and speed it should take across the Atlantic.
During the voyage, edge devices will collect and analyze ship data and
store it locally. When connectivity is available, it will be uploaded to
edge nodes located onshore. ProMare and IBM experts will update the deep
learning models and push them out to the ship as required. The edge
nodes are connected to IBM Cloud, where data is stored in IBM Cloud
The hull of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship is currently being constructed
and outfitted in Gdansk, Poland by Aluship Technology, before being
transported to Plymouth, UK later this year.