IBM and UK-based marine research organisation Promare have developed a new class of marine AI Captain for the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) that will power the self-steering vessel ready to go to sea for a month of testing.

The trial will be carried out on a manned research vessel off the coast of Plymouth, UK.

It will assess how the AI Captain uses cameras, artificial intelligence (AI) and edge computing systems to safely navigate around ships, buoys and other ocean hazards that the ship is expected to encounter during a transatlantic voyage in September 2020.

MAS will trace the route of the original 1620 Mayflower to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the famous voyage.

Sailing from Plymouth, UK, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, US, with no human captain or onboard crew, it will become one of the first full-sized, fully autonomous vessels to cross the Atlantic.

The mission will accelerate the development of commercial autonomous ships and help transform the future of marine research.

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Mayflower Autonomous Ship CTO Don Scott said: “While the autonomous shipping market is set to grow from $90bn today to over $130bn 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 depend on IBM’s advanced AI and edge computing systems to sense, think and make decisions at sea even with no human intervention.

For the past two years, the Mayflower team has been training the ship’s AI models, using more than one million nautical images collected by cameras in Plymouth Sound Bay and open-source databases.

The team has also used an IBM Power AC922 and IBM Power AI Vision so that the AI Captain would be able to independently detect and classify ships, buoys and other obstacles such as land, breakwater and debris.