Robot-driven boat crossing the Atlantic

Published on September 16th, 2020

Four hundred years after its namesake made a famous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, the IBM Mayflower Autonomous Ship is preparing to do the same—with a decidedly modern twist: It will be captained by a robot.

The American computer giant has developed an artificial intelligence-controlled trimaran boat powered by a solar-driven hybrid electric motor. Launched September 15, will now undergo six months of testing before sailing from Plymouth, England, to Cape Cod, following a course similar to the one traversed by the original Mayflower in 1620.

But in contrast to the historic vessel, a 100-foot wooden ship that carried 102 pilgrims across the Atlantic, IBM’s Mayflower is a 49-foot aluminum multihull completely helmed by a robot-trained “AI Captain” that will be able to “sense, think, and make decisions” at sea, all without having to rely on a human captain or onboard crew.

The boat, which is the product of two years of development, is a level 5 autonomous craft meaning that it can operate completely independent of human interaction. It is designed to provide a safe and cost-effective way of gathering data about the ocean, loaded with all kinds of tech to aid in the decision-making process.

With a max speed of 10 knots, it will begin the crossing in spring 2021, pursuing projects that encompass marine mammals, micro plastics, sea level height and wave patterns, oceanographic and environmental data collection.

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