The attempted first Atlantic crossing of a fully autonomous ship was canceled, the trimaran called Mayflower 400 is now sailing back to Great Britain. That reports the Washington Post – Meanwhile, the ship’s official tracker reports that there is no longer any connection to the ship. According to the report, the recall is a precautionary measure after a “minor mechanical problem”, which so far has only been speculated as nothing can be seen on the control cameras. The ship was on its way last Tuesday and the problem arose on Friday.
400 years after the first “Mayflower”
The 15 meter long Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS400) is a cooperation project between IBM and the Austrian association for the promotion of marine research Promare. It should be able to scan the horizon for possible dangers, make decisions on its own and change course based on live data. The new Mayflower was supposed to be driving from Plymouth in south-west England to Plymouth in the US state of Massachusetts within three weeks. It was on this route that the original Mayflower brought the so-called “Pilgrim Fathers” to the USA 400 years ago. Actually, that was already planned for the round anniversary, but the corona pandemic had thwarted this calculation.
The start of the journey last week had been preceded by years of preparation, said IBM. The autonomous ship is propelled by a sail fin, which is supposed to bring the boat to an average cruising speed of ten knots (18.5 kilometers per hour). In addition, two 20 kilowatt motors can accelerate the Mayflower to 4 to 5 knots purely electrically. For the US group, the project is above all an opportunity to demonstrate technical capabilities in edge computing – the operation of local AI systems. The computer installed on board for this purpose has to process incoming data from the cameras, radar, depth gauge and position and weather data in real time – you cannot rely on a continuous online connection.
How the Washington Post now summarizes, those responsible had registered on Friday that the ship was only moving half as fast as originally planned. It is possible that a component of the diesel engine installed as a backup was disconnected. The US newspaper Brett Phaneuf of Promare quotes that the Mayflower could have simply been allowed to continue. But now the Gulf Stream would have been imminent and a series of storms. If all drives aren’t fully functional, the worst case scenario is that the ship could be stuck out there for a very long time. That’s why you have it asked to return. How it will proceed after that is not yet known. The ship should not only prove that a fully autonomous Atlantic crossing is possible, but also collect data on the state of the sea.