New Autonomous Vessel IBM gets backing

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New Autonomous Vessel IBM gets backing


IBM has announced its decision of joining an effort to build an autonomous research vessel for a transatlantic crossing. 

The vessel is to be named Mayflower in honour of the fourth centennial of the famous voyage of settlers from England to the Americas. 

The five-ton, wing sail/solar/diesel powered Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) is designed to make 20 knots on its eastbound voyage. 

During the 12-day crossing, it will take water samples for research on ocean micro plastics, and its sensors will return data on water temperature and nutrient levels. 

For avoidance of navigation and collision, it will be equipped with an inertial guidance system, GPS, radar and LIDAR. With a satcom link to shore and processors on board, it will use IBM’s PowerAI Vision technology to evaluate its surroundings and an IBM Deep Learning-powered collision avoidance system to maintain autonomous safety of navigation. 

The vessel’s aluminium and composite trimaran hull is currently under construction at a yard in Gdansk, and it is due for delivery in February. Fitting out and testing should be completed by August, in time for a September 2020 departure – exactly on schedule for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s sailing. 

The consortium behind MAS includes Plymouth University, which is responsible for the research instrumentation; Whiskerstay Ltd., the naval architect; Aluship Technology, the shipbuilder; M Subs Ltd, a manned/unmanned submarine specialist; ProMare, a non-profit group coordinating the effort; and Gard, the insurer. 

IBM will provide the autonomy engine, the vessel’s “brain.” 

The project has backing from the Plymouth City Council and from local business leaders, who see it as a way to celebrate the centenary of the Mayflower voyage and the history of Plymouth. 

ProMare board member and co-director of the project, Brett Phaneuf, said, “Putting a research ship to sea can cost tens of thousands of dollars or pounds a day and is limited by how much time people can spend onboard – a prohibitive factor for many of today’s marine scientific missions.

“With [MAS], we are pioneering a cost-effective and flexible platform for gathering data that will help safeguard the health of the ocean and the industries it supports.”

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