A crewless robotic boat that explores the 1620s sea voyage of the Mayflower has landed near Plymouth Rock†
The sleek Mayflower Autonomous Ship encountered an escort boat on Thursday as it approached the Massachusetts shoreline, more than 400 years after its namesake’s historic voyage from England.
It was towed to Plymouth harbor – under US Coast Guard rules for crewless ships – and docked near a replica of the original Mayflower that brought the Pilgrims to America.
The 15-meter-long trimaran, controlled by artificial intelligence technology, had no captain, navigator or people on board.
The first attempt of a solar-powered ship to cross the Atlantic in 2021, it faced technical difficulties, forcing it to return to its home port of Plymouth, England — the same place the Pilgrim settlers sailed from in 1620.
It departed again from the southwestern English coast in April, but due to mechanical problems was diverted to the Portuguese Azores Islands and then to Canada.
“Obviously, if you don’t have anyone on board, you can’t do the mechanical, physical repairs that are needed,” said Rob High, a software manager at IBM who helped on the project. “That is also part of the learning process.”
On Monday, the ship departed Halifax, Nova Scotia for a successful 4-day voyage to Plymouth Harbour.
The nonprofit marine research organization ProMare partnered with IBM to build the ship and is using it to collect data on whales, microplastic pollution and other scientific research. Small autonomous experimental ships have crossed the Atlantic before, but researchers describe it as the first ship of its size to do so.
Completion of the voyage “means we can start analyzing data from the ship’s voyage” and dig into the performance of the AI system, High said.
High added that the prospect of such crewless ships continuously navigating the seas will make it easier to “collect all kinds of things that marine scientists care about”.