AI Mayflower ship completes its journey across the Atlantic Ocean in 40 days


A robotic recreation of the 17th century Mayflower ship has finally completed a 3,500 journey across the Atlantic Ocean, in 40 days. 

Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) – a 50-foot-long autonomous research vessel piloted by artificial intelligence (AI) – arrived in Halifax, Canada on Sunday (June 5). 

MAS, which carried no humans on board and relied on artificial intelligence, had set sail from Turnchapel Wharf, Plymouth, England in the early hours of April 27. 

The ship was smooth sailing until the second week of May when a generator issue diverted it to Portugal’s Azores islands so a team member could fly in to do repairs.

During the latter stages of the journey the decision was made to head to Halifax – as opposed to Virginia as previously planned – due to more mechanical issues. 

It follows a failed attempt to send the vessel across the Atlantic in June last year. 

Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) – a 50-foot-long autonomous research vessel piloted by artificial intelligence (AI) – arrived in Halifax, Canada on Sunday (June 5). Pictured is the ship by Halifax waterfront 

The ship left Plymouth and April and was intended to reach Virginia in around three weeks. Instead it travelled to Halifax via Portugal¿s Azores islands

The ship left Plymouth and April and was intended to reach Virginia in around three weeks. Instead it travelled to Halifax via Portugal’s Azores islands

Throughout its journey, the vessel relied on an onboard AI Captain, which has its own Twitter account that tweeted its progress

Throughout its journey, the vessel relied on an onboard AI Captain, which has its own Twitter account that tweeted its progress

The Mayflower – 2022

Journey time: 40 days

Speed: 10 knots (max) 

Length: 50 foot (15m) 

Weight: 5 tons 

Propulsion A hybrid of wind and solar energy, with diesel backup generator  

Crew: 0

Passengers: 0  

Navigation system: Motion and rotation sensors, Global Navigation Satellite System  

Mission: Research our oceans and  pioneer a new generation of research ships.

Source: IBM 

The £1 million ($1.3 million) ship was built to recreate the original Mayflower’s historic journey from England to the New World more than 400 years ago. 

Mayflower, which transported 102 passengers known as the Pilgrims, took 10 weeks to reach its destination in the autumn of 1620. 

MAS, meanwhile, took just over five weeks. Operators had told MailOnline shortly after the departure that the journey would only take around three weeks. 

MAS was been made in partnership with University of Plymouth, autonomous craft specialists MSubs, tech firm IBM and public charity ProMare. 

Throughout its journey, the vessel relied on an onboard AI Captain, which has its own Twitter account that tweeted its progress. 

‘After a 40 day and 3,500 mile journey Mayflower Autonomous Ship successfully completed her mission to cross the Atlantic,’ the account announced on Monday evening. 

‘She arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Sunday June 5.’

AI Captain uses computer vision, automation software and Watson technology – IBM’s AI platform. 

It was trained with more than 1 million nautical images so it could recognise ships, debris, bridges, pieces of land and other hazards. 

In addition to being powered by AI, MAS has 30 sensors onboard gathering data and 15 edge devices analysing the data.

It also has six cameras, which provided live views of the vessel’s journey on its official website. These now show the ship docked at Halifax. 

Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) departed from Plymouth, England on April 27. It's pictured here shortly after setting sail

Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) departed from Plymouth, England on April 27. It’s pictured here shortly after setting sail 

Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS), pictured here during tests, is a 50-foot-long autonomous research vessel piloted by artificial intelligence (AI)

Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS), pictured here during tests, is a 50-foot-long autonomous research vessel piloted by artificial intelligence (AI)

Technicians lower the Mayflower Autonomous Ship into the water at its launch site on September 14, 2020, for its first outing on water since being built. MAS was first revealed in 2017 and was supposed to sail in September 2020 to mark the original ship's 400th anniversary before plans were delayed due to coronavirus

Technicians lower the Mayflower Autonomous Ship into the water at its launch site on September 14, 2020, for its first outing on water since being built. MAS was first revealed in 2017 and was supposed to sail in September 2020 to mark the original ship’s 400th anniversary before plans were delayed due to coronavirus

The Mayflower – 1620

The original Mayflower was built in Harwich, North Essex

The original Mayflower was built in Harwich, North Essex

Journey time: 60 days 

Speed: 5 knots (max)

Length: 30m 

Weight: 180 tons

Propulsion: Wind (three masts)

Crew: 30

Passengers: 102 

Navigation system: A compass, an hourglass, nautical charts and a logline 

Mission: Carry pilgrims from England to the New World.  

 Source: IBM

MAS was first revealed in 2017 and was supposed to sail in September 2020 to mark the original ship’s 400th anniversary before plans were delayed due to coronavirus. 

It originally set off on June 15, 2021; however, it had to return to shores only three days later after the AI was beset with an unfortunate glitch.

ProMare, which worked with IBM to build the autonomous ship, had said it made the decision to return to base ‘to investigate and fix a minor mechanical issue’. 

Following this year’s April departure, MAS had to divert to Horta on Portugal’s Azores islands in the second week of May. In late May, the ship developed a problem with the charging circuit for the generator’s starter batteries, forcing the change of course to Halifax.

It’s worth noting that the original Mayflower was supposed to set sail in the summer of 1620 but twice turned back to England because of a leaking problem affecting its sister ship, the Speedwell, so at least MAS’s malfunctions have some historical precedent. 

While the original Mayflower docked at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, MAS’s destination was changed multiple times.

MAS had planned to retrace the original journey of 1620 to Provincetown on Cape Cod before heading to Plymouth, Massachusetts. 

However, by the time of the departure this April, its destination had been to the south of Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, before heading to Washington DC. 

The boat is likely to stay in Halifax for a week or two before heading to Plymouth and then Washington DC. 

Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899. The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony

Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899. The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony 

MAS will mark four centuries after white Europeans stepped off the Mayflower (pictured) and onto America's shores

MAS will mark four centuries after white Europeans stepped off the Mayflower (pictured) and onto America’s shores 

MAS (pictured) relies on an onboard AI Captain which uses computer vision, automation software and Watson technology - IBM's most notable AI platform. The ship's operators tell the Mayflower where they want it to go and then it will figure out how to get there itself, considering the weather, ocean currents, collision regulations and other variable

Technicians lower the Mayflower Autonomous Ship into the water at its launch site in Turnchapel, Plymouth, September 2020. Four centuries and one year after the Mayflower departed from Plymouth, England on a historic sea journey to America, another trailblazing vessel with the same name has set off to retrace the voyage

Built to ProMare’s specifications, the five-ton, 50-foot-long vessel incorporates marine architecture features designed to withstand the stresses of extended trips at sea. 

Human operators programmed MAS on where to travel but the AI had to figure out how to get there itself, considering the weather, ocean currents, collision regulations and other variables. 

MAS can react to ocean traffic in real time using a combination of radar, cameras, and the Automated Identification System (AIS), which transmits information such as the Mayflower’s latitude and longitude to other boats. 

The interior is also different from the living quarters of the original ship; instead of beds and bathrooms, there are just rooms with science experiments set up.

One for water analysis collected seawater samples and stored them in bottles for a human worker to inspect. 

The samples will then been looked at by scientists at Plymouth University to determine microplastic levels throughout the ocean. 

The interior is also different from the living quarters of the original ship. Instead of beds and bathrooms, there are just rooms with science experiments setup

The interior is also different from the living quarters of the original ship. Instead of beds and bathrooms, there are just rooms with science experiments setup

In 2016, the city of Plymouth proposed commemorating the upcoming 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s journey with a replica of the ship. 

‘When the city of Plymouth talked about building a replica of the original Mayflower, I told them there already is one in Massachusetts – I grew up not too far from it,’ said Brett Phaneuf, co-director of the project and president at ProMare. 

‘Instead, [I said] we should speak to the next 400 years of the maritime enterprise. Let’s be inspired by what the Pilgrims did and jump off into a new beginning.’     

The voyage Mayflower is arguably one of the most important dates in American history, the day the first 102 Pilgrims arrived from England to what we now know as Plymouth, Massachusetts on November 21, 1620.  

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MAYFLOWER AND THE ENGLISH PILGRIMS

The Mayflower story began when a small group of separatists fled England for Holland in 1608.

The group was a mix of those seeking to earn their fortunes in the fish and beaver trade and a small band of Puritans – Christians who had chosen to separate themselves from the Church of England.

They were known as Separatists whose beliefs put them at odds with the established church, led by James I.

Eventually, the group became disgusted by the ‘licentiousness’ of the Dutch city of Leiden and decided to settle in Virginia, as England’s American colony was known.

They arranged to sail on the ships Mayflower and Speedwell to the New World.

The Pilgrims' landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts and the subsequent interactions between the British and the Wampanoag tribe significantly shaped the building of America

The Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts and the subsequent interactions between the British and the Wampanoag tribe significantly shaped the building of America

The Mayflower was a three-masted ship, most likely between 90 and 110 feet long.

The ship was hired in London, and sailed from London to Southampton in July 1620 to begin loading food and supplies for the voyage–much of which was purchased at Southampton.

The Mayflower then left Holland on 31 July 1620, joining the Speedwell in Southampton, England, for the voyage to America.

The two ships sailed on 15 August but returned because of the leaky condition of the Speedwell.

The Speedwell was eventually abandoned, and on 16 September, 102 passengers and around 30 crew aboard the Mayflower finally sailed from England.

The voyage itself across the Atlantic Ocean took 66 days, from their departure on September 16 (Old Style September 6), until Cape Cod was sighted on November 19 (Old Style November 9) 1620.

Those on board would have slept on the floor in cramped conditions, amid the horrific odours of unwashed bodies, stale wine and vomit.

The arrival of the British Pilgrims all those centuries ago had a devastating impact on the Native Americans - the effects of which are still held today - who have inhabited Massachusetts for 12,000 years

The arrival of the British Pilgrims all those centuries ago had a devastating impact on the Native Americans – the effects of which are still held today – who have inhabited Massachusetts for 12,000 years

Buckets were used for chamber pots in which passengers relieved themselves if the weather was too bad to go off the side of the ship.

The group’s diet consisted of salt beef or pork, oatmeal and rice and butter and cheese.

After more than two months at sea, the Mayflower dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on November 21.

The travellers who disembarked were starving, exhausted and riven with disease.

A sailor boy was the only member of the group to die during the journey. 

However, another five died while the Mayflower was at anchor at the Cape Cod harbour for several weeks. Another 45 of the original Pilgrims died in that first winter.

Of the 18 women who boarded the Mayflower at Plymouth, only five survived.

Of the 102 passengers Mayflower brought to New England in 1620, 32 were children.

While nearly half of the ship’s passengers did not survive the winter of 1620/1621, it is believed there were fewer deaths among the children, which meant the struggling colony had more chance of flourishing. 

Upon arriving in America, the meeting between the Mayflower Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Tribe was an encounter that would go on to shape the history of the US.

The Wampanoag people inhabited the land known as Patuxet, now known as Plymouth, for more than 12,000 years.

They had a form of sovereign governance, which influenced the structure of the modern U.S. government, and a network of 69 villages across what is now Massachusetts.

The Pilgrims arrival in Plymouth began years of coexistence when the Wampanoag people assisted them in planting, hunting and protection. The Pilgrims allied with the Wampanoag to protect against opposing tribes.

It was a three-day festival, to celebrate the harvest after the first winter, that became the basis for the American Thanksgiving holiday.

Historically, the agreement they had for more than a half century was the only evidence of an alliance between colonists and Native people on record.

This agreement disintegrated as more and more colonists arrived and imposed English law and acquired their land.

After this period, the fate of Native Americans became a tragic chapter in history and the effects are still felt today.



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