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Unmanned vessel set to depart Plymouth for US

After sea trials off Plymouth this summer, a totally autonomous, unmanned boat will attempt a transatlantic voyage in September, departing for Massachusetts with no person on board.

The boat, called the Mayflower Autonomous Ship or MAS, has been ‘trained’ to react appropriately to a vast range of potential maritime situations, from encountering other boats, to storms, sea life and even icebergs.

MAS will trace the route of the original 1620 Mayflower, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the famous voyage, sailing from Plymouth, Devon, to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

After years of failures, a 2m-long robotic boat completed the first unmanned transatlantic voyage in 2018, but Don Scott of the MAS project says this new venture will take autonomous shipping to a new level: “While the autonomous shipping market is set to grow from $90 billion today to over $130 billion by 2030, many of today’s autonomous ships are really just automated robots which do not dynamically adapt to new situations and rely heavily on operator override.

“Using an integrated set of IBM’s AI, cloud, and edge technologies, we are aiming to give the Mayflower the ability to operate independently in some of the most challenging circumstances on the planet.”

MAS will rely on IBM’s advanced AI and edge computing systems to sense, think and make decisions at sea, with no human intervention.

The Mayflower team has trained the ship’s AI models using more than a million nautical images, collected from cameras in Plymouth Sound, meaning it should be able to detect and classify ships, buoys and other hazards such as land, breakwaters and debris.

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