Artificial intelligence, cloud and edge computing and remote monitoring technology will be deployed on the first major cross-Ocean sailing of an unmanned research ship
The world’s first attempt at a transatlantic voyage by an autonomous vessel took a step closer to reality after IBM Systems joined the consortium of companies developing the technology.
IBM’s artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing will be used on the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) when it crosses the Atlantic Ocean in September 2020.
This fully autonomous ship is being developed, built and tested by a consortium led by marine research organisation ProMare.
It plans to sail an unmanned ship from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, on a research voyage on the fourth centenary of the original Mayflower voyage.
IBM UK and Ireland chief technology officer Andy Stanford-Clark sees parallels between this MAS project and a major human technological and explorational achievement 50 years ago.
“IBM helped put man on the moon and is excited by the challenge of using advanced technologies to cross and research our deepest oceans,” he said. “By providing the brains for the Mayflower autonomous ship, we are pushing the boundaries of science and autonomous technologies to address critical environmental issues.”
Success of this project would open the door to a new era of autonomous research ships, said MAS project co-director and ProMare founding board member Brett Phaneuf.
“With this project, we are pioneering a cost-effective and flexible platform for gathering data that will help safeguard the health of the ocean and the industries it supports,” he said.
This project will pair IBM PowerAI Vision technology with IBM’s accelerated servers, as used by the world’s most powerful supercomputers.
IBM is assisting ProMare to build deep-learning models capable of recognising navigation hazards that MAS will visualise through onboard video cameras.
MAS will initially be tested in Plymouth Sound, UK, where onboard computers will receive real-time data and images. Other data feeds will include radar, light detection and ranging (Lidar) and automated identification system data.
These will enable MAS to recognise hazards such as buoys, debris and other ships, improving its situational awareness and allow the vessel to create routes to avoid them.
MAS will have three research pods containing an array of sensors and scientific instrumentation that scientists will use to advance understanding in vital areas such as maritime cyber security, marine mammal monitoring, sea level mapping and ocean plastics.
These studies will be co-ordinated by the UK’s University of Plymouth with support from IBM and ProMare. This university is a global authority in microplastics and will lead research to analyse water samples from MAS as it sails across the Atlantic to understand more about the origin, distribution and potential impact of microplastics in the ocean.
University of Plymouth director of the Marine Institute Professor Richard Thompson said microplastics present a substantial challenge to our oceans.
“Over 700 species come into contact with marine litter which is found from the poles to the equator, and estimates are that the quantity of plastic in the oceans will triple in the decade to 2025,” he said.
“The MAS project gives us the opportunity to rethink how to collect data and further our understanding of this global issue.”
In another technological development, the UK’s University of Birmingham will use virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies in the human-machine interfaces for the project monitoring team. It will then develop a mixed-reality telepresence science station that will enable members of the public around the world to experience the transatlantic mission.