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After 400 years a new Mayflower sets sail again, but with no one onboard

PortandTerminal.com, October 15, 2019

A fully autonomous ship tracing the journey of the Mayflower is being built by a UK-based team, with help from tech firm IBM. The original Mayflower 400 years ago had 132 people on board. This time it will have none.

PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND – The Mayflower Autonomous Ship, or MAS, will launch from Plymouth in the UK in September 2020.

The route of the original Mayflower voyage to America in 1620 Map credit: National Geographic

Its voyage will mark the 400th anniversary of the pilgrim ship which brought European settlers to America in 1620. The new autonomous Mayflower will repeat their journey but without any humans on board, and a much faster anticipated crossing time of two weeks.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship Specs

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship. The vessel has a maximum speed of 20 knots, is 49 feet long and weighs 5 tons.

IBM is providing artificial intelligence systems for the Mayflower Autonomous Ship

The vessel will make its own decisions on its course and collision avoidance, and will even make satellite phone calls back to base if it deems it necessary.

The sensor technology guiding its decision-making process includes:

  • Light detecting and ranging (LIDAR)
  • Radio detecting and ranging (RADAR)
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Satellites
  • Cameras

Data on hundreds of ships has already been collected in Plymouth Sound to feed its machine-learning algorithms.

The vessel will run on solar and wind power, with an emergency diesel backup generator if needed. The team running the project will keep an eye on its progress from a control centre in Plymouth and can take over if there is an emergency.

The hull of the ship is currently under construction in Gdansk, Poland, and is due to arrive in Plymouth next February.

The Mayflower’s voyage

Pilgrim Fathers boarding the Mayflower for their voyage to America. After painting by Bernard Gribble. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

400 years ago, on 6 September 1620, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth to Massachusetts, with 102 passengers and around 30 crew members.

The original journey took more than two months, landing at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, on 21 December 1620.

The passengers on board, mainly Christian Puritans, became known as pilgrims.

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