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IBM On Board for Mayflower Autonomous Ship Project

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Autonomous ship project

The company’s systems, AI, cloud and edge technologies play key roles in the world’s first ever autonomous transatlantic voyage.

IBM and a global consortium of partners including marine research organization ProMare have come aboard to collaborate on an unmanned, autonomous ship that will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage by retracing its trek across the Atlantic in September 2020. IBMs servers, AI, cloud, and edge technologies will play key roles in running the ship and helping it avoid ocean dangers as it sails from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, MA.

If the voyage is successful, it will be among the world’s first full-sized, self-navigating vessels to cross the Atlantic and usher in an era of autonomous research ships. The ship will carry three research pods contacting sensors and scientific instruments that will be used to gather data in a variety of critical areas including sea level mapping, ocean plastics measurement, marine life monitoring, and maritime security. The University of Plymouth, UK will supervise the research with support from ProMare and IBM.

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Putting a research ship to sea can cost tens of thousands of dollars or pounds a day and is limited by how much time people can spend onboard – a prohibitive factor for many of today’s marine scientific missions,” said Brett Phaneuf, a Founding Board Member of ProMare and Co-Director of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project (together with fellow Board Member Fredrik Soreide). “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.”

Andy Stanford-Clark, Chief Technology Officer, IBM UK & Ireland, added: “IBM helped put a man on the moon and is excited by the challenge of using advanced technologies to cross and research our deepest oceans. By providing the brains for the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, we are pushing the boundaries of science and autonomous technologies to address critical environmental issues.”

The university is a leading authority on microplastics, one of the most serious issues facing our oceans. The ship will analyze water samples as it travels across the Atlantic to help them understand the impact and distribution of microplastics in the ocean.

According to Professor Richard Thompson, OBE, Director of the Marine Institute, University of Plymouth “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. The Mayflower Autonomous Ship gives us the opportunity to rethink how to collect data and further our understanding of this global issue.”

The University of Birmingham will also play a key role. They’ll be responsible for the virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies that will be used during the voyage, including a Mixed Reality Telepresence Science Station that will bring the voyage to schoolchildren and the public.

IBM’s PowerAI Vision Technology and IBM Power Systems accelerated servers will be used to help ProMare build deep learning models that can recognize navigation hazards spotted by the MAS’s video cameras. They’ll be trained using real data and images from the Plymouth Sound, enabling the ship to recognize hazards like debris, buoys and other ships. The MAS will have constant situational awareness via the same RADAR, AIS (Automated Identification Systems) and LIDAR technology found in autonomous cars.

When the technology detects a hazard, IBM’s Operational Decision Manager software will be used to help the ship choose how to respond, whether it be, speeding up to get out of the way, changing course or drawing emergency power. Data from maps, sensors and weather forecasts will be used to chart the best course and speed for the journey.

Data collected by edge devices will be analyzed and stored locally, then uploaded to onshore edge nodes when connectivity is available. Updates to the deep learning models will be pushed to the ship when needed.

The hull is currently under construction in Poland and will make its way to the UK later this year.

Sue Walsh

About Sue Walsh

Sue Walsh is News Writer for RTInsights, and a freelance writer and social media manager living in New York City. Her specialties include tech, security and e-commerce. You can follow her on Twitter at @girlfridaygeek.

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