Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS), an AI and solar-powered marine research vessel, which will traverse oceans gathering environmental data, has been lifted into the waters off the coast of Plymouth, England.

The vessel is set to be officially launched later today after two years of design, construction, and training of its AI models.

The launching date coincides with the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s historic journey across the Atlantic from Plymouth to America.

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.

The vessel’s transatlantic voyage will be based on a similar route to the 1620 Mayflower.

MAS features an AI Captain built by ProMare and IBM developers which gives the ship the ability to sense, think, and make decisions at sea with no human captain or onboard crew.

“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.”

The vessel features a trimaran design which is both hydro- and aero-dynamic and highly stable in rough seas. MAS has been built using aluminum and composite materials. It weighs around 5 tonnes and is 15 meters long. The ship will be designed to achieve a speed of around 20 knots.

This project could serve as a cost-effective and flexible platform for gathering data that will help safeguard the health of the ocean and the industries it supports.

The project is led by marine research organization Promare, with IBM as a technology partner, among many others.

The scientific research work will be coordinated by the University of Plymouth, UK, which will be 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.

If successful, it will be one of the first self-navigating, full-sized vessels to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the project developers believe this would open the door on a new era of autonomous research ships.

IBM and ProMare have launched a new interactive web portal, designed to provide real-time updates about the ship’s location, environmental conditions and data from its various research projects.

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