Autonomous Mayflower crosses Atlantic

MAS in Halifax Harbor.

The original Mayflower brought a boatload of immigrants to America. Now a solar-powered trimaran named the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) — although it’s a bit small for the designation “ship” — has crossed the Atlantic, helping to bring shipping into a new age of artificial intelligence (AI). With no crew aboard and navigating via AI alone, MAS finished a 2,700-mile (4,400km) passage from Plymouth, UK to Halifax in Nova Scotia on June 5. The 50-foot long MAS can make 10 knots and was controlled by AI developed by IBM. It uses six cameras and 50 sensors to obtain input from the world around it for making navigation and collision avoidance decisions.

MAS, which departed on April 29, was originally intended to travel from Plymouth to Plymouth, Mass., but problems arose and the vessel was redirected to Halifax.

The first Mayflower was a three-masted, 100-foot vessel rigged with square sails on its fore and main masts and a fore-and-aft, lateen-rigged mizzen, technically making it a barque. Mayflower carried 30 crew and 102 passengers and took two months to cross the Atlantic in 1620.


By Tim Queeney