New autonomous Mayflower launches from Plymouth to gather ocean data

September 17, 2020  - By
Photo: Tom Barnes for IBM

Photo: Tom Barnes for IBM

An autonomous ship launched Sept. 16 on a mission to traverse oceans and gather vital environmental data, guided by GNSS and inertial measurement units (IMUs).

Ocean research non-profit ProMare joined with IBM on the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) — an artificial intelligence (AI) and solar-powered marine research vessel. Following two years of design, construction and training of its AI models, the fully-autonomous trimaran was launched from Plymouth, England.

The ship is guided by both GNSS and IMU technology. It uses two Hexagon | Veripos LD8 receivers, each with two V560 marine antennas. The onboard IMUs include an iXBlue Octans and two Silicon Sensing AMU30s.

Designed to provide a safe, flexible and cost-effective way of gathering data about the ocean, the new-generation Mayflower promises to transform oceanography by working in tandem with scientists and other autonomous vessels to help understand critical issues such as global warming, micro-plastic pollution and marine mammal conservation.

ProMare is coordinating the scientific studie,s working with IBM Research and leading scientific organizations.

MAS features an AI captain built by ProMare and IBM developers that gives MAS the ability to sense, think and make decisions at sea with no human captain or onboard crew. The new class of marine AI is underpinned by IBM’s latest advanced edge computing systems, automation software, computer vision technology and Red Hat Open Source software.

“Able to scan the horizon for possible hazards, make informed decisions and change its course based on a fusion of live data, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship has more in common with a modern bank than its 17th century namesake,” said Andy Stanford-Clark, Chief Technology Officer, IBM UK & Ireland. “With its ability to keep running in the face of the most challenging conditions, this small ship is a microcosm for every aspiring 21st century business.”


Artie — short for Artemis and artificial Intelligence — is a stowaway hitching a ride on the Mayflower who answers questions about the ship, the ocean or himself on (Photo: IBM)

Interactive web portal follows voyage

To enable followers around the world to stay updated with MAS as it undertakes its various missions, IBM and ProMare have also launched an interactive web portal. Built by IBM iX (the business design arm of IBM Services), the MAS400 portal is designed to provide real-time updates about the ship’s location, environmental conditions and data from its various research projects.

Live weather data is streamed from IBM’s The Weather Company, as MAS receives forecast data and insight from the new IBM Weather Operations Center.

‘Octopus’ aboard answers questions

The portal even features a seven-armed, stowaway octopus chatbot called Artie, who claims to be hitching a ride on the ship. (With seven arms, he’s technically a septopus.) Powered by IBM Watson Assistant technology and created in partnership with European startup Chatbotbay, Artie has been trained to provide information about MAS and its adventures in a lively, and accessible format.

“ is one of the most advanced ocean mission web portals ever built,” says Fredrik Soreide, Scientific Director of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project and Board Member of ProMare. “Protecting the ocean depends on our ability to engage the public in important matters affecting its health. This MAS400 portal is designed to do exactly that and tell people where the ship is, what speed it’s travelling at, what conditions it’s operating in and what science we are conducting. Users can even help Artie the Octopus fish out surgical masks, cigarette butts and other increasingly common forms of ocean litter from a virtual ocean of facts and data.”

MAS will spend the next six months in sea trials and undertake various research missions and voyages before attempting to cross the Atlantic in Spring 2021. MAS’s transatlantic voyage will be based on a similar route and pioneering spirit to the 1620 Mayflower which made the same crossing 400 years ago.

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.