In the quest to achieve autonomy in transport, more and more transport systems are turning to artificial intelligence (AI). Last year, IBM and non-profit organisation, ProMare teamed up to develop an autonomous ship that will sail the Atlantic Ocean without a crew on board. Now, it is finally happening!

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) is based on the original Mayflower ship that existed 400 years ago. It sailed from Plymouth to the New World, carrying the first English settlers to the US. Unlike the original Mayflower, the MAS uses many advanced technologies to enable a crew-less sail in the Atlantic Ocean.

Captain “AI” Reporting for Duty

IBM implemented an “AI Captain” on board to control the whole ship. Now, as the MAS uses AI, GPS and Satellite navigation connections cannot always support the system. This is because the speed of the connectivity plays a huge role in real-time data processing and hence the system needs all the data stored locally. That’s where IBM’s “Edge Computing” comes into play. The “Edge Computing” is a type of computing framework that brings the sources of the data closer to the applications. This helps to speed up data processing as the proximity of the data sources are very low. You can learn more about “Edge Computing” from IBM’s official website.

Now, apart from the “Edge Computing” technology, the MAS uses IBM’s Power AC922 system. Many supercomputers use this system to deliver performance for analytics and AI. The “AI captain” of the MAS also uses IBM’s PowerVision AI. This enables it to detect and identify other ships, floating buoys and rubbles. This allows the ship to avoid any obstacles that lie ahead by using combinations of the onboard sensors.

MAS 2
Image: IBM

An Automatic Identification System (AIS) helps the MAS to gather particular information about other ships and vessels that are moving ahead of it. It can comprehend information about the ship/vessel’s class, its speed, what type of cargo it is carrying and what is the weight of the ship. Pretty cool, right?

Apart from these advance technologies, the ship can also access navigation data and nautical chart servers for various information. It also has a vehicle management system installed that provides the “AI captain” with information like the battery levels of equipment and the power consumption of the ship.

The organisations are planning to launch the ship in the Atlantic in September. It is currently in production in Gdansk, Poland. However, the “AI Captain” will be tested soon in a crew-loaded ship, the Plymouth Quest. The test of the “AI Captain” will reveal how well it performs in real-life situations. Then the results will be used to further develop the system.