Skip to main content

IBM’s autonomous Mayflower ship lifted into the water ahead of launch

Is this the era of autonomous ships?

After two years of work on design, construction, and A.I. training, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship — a.k.a. the fully autonomous trimaran that will cross the ocean from Plymouth, England to the U.S. — was today lifted into the waters in advance of its official launch Wednesday.

The vessel, which Digital Trends has covered in-depth before, will ultimately re-create the voyage of the original Mayflower, which carried settlers to America in the 17th century. It will officially set sail on this journey in spring 2021. However, the time before then will be well spent as the Mayflower Autonomous Ship will carry out various waterborne tests and research missions.

“Like most things, COVID slowed us down to start with,” Simon Holgate, technical research manager at IBM Research Europe, one of the groups behind the project, told Digital Trends. “Ironically for an autonomous ship, it was mostly in the areas which still rely heavily on humans. For example, [partner group, ocean research non-profit] ProMare had planned to test the A.I. Captain on a crewed research vessel in the Plymouth Sound from March this year. However, COVID-related social distancing has led to many of those traditional research ships being currently in dock. Unable to move forward with that part of the ship’s development, we’ve relied on virtual testing and some simulations at a special station on Mount Batten pier in Plymouth Harbor.”


Of course, that all changes now that the boat will carry out actual sea trials. Originally, the plan was for a big public launch event in Plymouth. But coronavirus scuppered these plans, too. Instead, there will be a smaller naming ceremony Wednesday, the 400th anniversary of the 1620 Mayflower voyage.

But just because the Mayflower won’t have any humans on board doesn’t mean you can’t follow along. To enable people around the world to stay updated, there’s an interactive web portal that offers real-time updates about the ship’s location, environmental conditions, and data from its various research projects. For younger fans (and the young at heart) there’s also an octopus chatbot called Artie, created with European startup Chatbotbay, who will discuss topics ranging from edge computing to colonialism.

“People can even help Artie fish out surgical masks, cigarette butts, and other increasingly common forms of ocean litter from a virtual ocean of facts and data,” Holgate said.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
Nvidia’s supercomputer may bring on a new era of ChatGPT
Nvidia's CEO showing off the company's Grace Hopper computer.

Nvidia has just announced a new supercomputer that may change the future of AI. The DGX GH200, equipped with nearly 500 times more memory than the systems we're familiar with now, will soon fall into the hands of Google, Meta, and Microsoft.

The goal? Revolutionizing generative AI, recommender systems, and data processing on a scale we've never seen before. Are language models like GPT going to benefit, and what will that mean for regular users?

Read more
Amazon plans ‘once-in-a-generation’ changes for Search, job ad reveals
Amazon logo on the headquarters building.

Amazon looks set to jump aboard the generative AI bandwagon with a new project that will involve a "once-in-a-generation transformation for search," according to a job ad spotted by Bloomberg on Monday.

The listing -- now removed by Amazon but accessible via a web-based archive -- is for a senior software development engineer and says: “We are reimagining Amazon Search with an interactive conversational experience that helps you find answers to product questions, perform product comparisons, receive personalized product suggestions, and so much more, to easily find the perfect product for your needs.”

Read more
Google Smart Canvas gets deeper integration between apps
A MacBook with Google Chrome loaded.

Google is updating Smart Canvas, a collaboration experience that debuted last year in the midst of the global pandemic designed for better collaboration and remote work, with new improvements targeting hybrid work.

The Internet search giant claims that the latest enhancements to Smart Canvas help to improve collaboration and speed up your workflow when using Google Workspace apps, such as Google Docs and Sheets.

Read more