The first transatlantic voyage conducted by an autonomous ship will use geospatial data from the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO)
The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) project will use UKHO’s bathymetry, tidal height and surface current data during its planned test voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from the UK to the US. This voyage is expected to commence in Q2 2021 and take around three weeks from Plymouth, UK to Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Mayflower will be an unmanned vessel powered through renewable energy with a generator back-up. This fully autonomous vessel, which will collect critical data about the health of the ocean, will use UKHO information and IBM technology for navigation.
Data provided by the UKHO spans high-resolution gridded bathymetry, tidal height and surface current data. It includes geospatial restriction and constraints data for the Plymouth Sound region, providing MAS with a definitive view of the seabed in UK coastal waters.
As a data partner to the project, the UKHO also facilitated meetings with NOAA to enable the MAS team to secure similar data for the approach to Plymouth, Massachusetts.
UKHO’s data will complement updates from IBM’s weather division, which include 500-m resolution weather forecasts and predictions along the route to help MAS avoid sailing into severe conditions.
MAS will use artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to traverse the ocean. Its Marine AI Captain assimilates data from several sources, constantly assesses the vessel’s route, status and mission, and makes decisions about what to do next.
“This mission will not only advance ocean research, but also pioneer new technologies and new forms of data, with the potential to transform commercial shipping, oil and gas, security and defence, and other industries,” said MAS director Brett Phaneuf.
Marine AI managing director Matthew Ratsey said Mayflower will follow a similar course to the original Mayflower crossing made 400 years ago. “The high-resolution marine geospatial data provided by the UKHO will be interpreted by Marine AI’s Guardian autonomy AI software during its transatlantic crossing,” said Mr Ratsey. “It will significantly enhance the MAS’s situational awareness, safety at sea and improve voyage efficiency.”
UKHO is working with the MAS team on solving the challenge of machine-readable data. This involves creating data suitable for machines rather than basing the technology on datasets made for humans or current electronic navigational charts (ENCs).
“Focusing on the challenge of machine-readable data is one of the key ways our sector will be able to scale autonomy as a widespread solution,” said UKHO head of research, design and innovation Mark Casey.
NOAA northeast navigation manager Colleen Roche said recent investments in navigation resources will enable autonomous vessels to cross oceans.
“Investments in the Precision Marine Navigation programme, which provides surface current forecast data for navigation, and the ENC rescheming project were made with the future in mind,” she said. “It gives us a chance to showcase those products and help inform what improvements could better support autonomous navigation.”
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