Unmanned 'Mayflower' to cross Atlantic in 2020

Sep 06, 2019

Exactly one year from today, an unmanned ship will set sail from Plymouth and attempt to complete a pioneering crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) will begin its journey on 6 September 2020, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims' voyage to America.

Like its namesake in 1620, MAS will rely to some extent on favourable weather to complete its crossing as it will be powered by state-of-the-art renewable energy technology.

It will also carry a research pod, featuring sensors and other equipment which scientists hope will pave the way for ground-breaking research into ocean conditions, marine pollution and conservation, and autonomous navigation

The project was first conceived in 2014, since when the partners – all with roots in Plymouth, Britain’s Ocean City – have been refining designs to ensure it can survive whatever conditions the Atlantic Ocean has to offer.

Those refinements also include ensuring it can be used beyond this voyage and become a prototype for autonomous marine research and exploration in the future.


Mayflower Autonomous Ship

Images: Bob Stone, Human Interface Technology Team, University of Birmingham

MAS is being coordinated through a partnership headed by ProMare, a non-profit corporation and public charity established to promote marine research and exploration throughout the world. The research pod will be coordinated by the University of Plymouth, a world-leading centre of excellence for marine and maritime education, research and innovation.

Meanwhile MSubs, which has over 20 years' experience in mechanical engineering, composites, electrical, electronic and software design, will construct the vessel.

Fredrik Soreide, the ProMare Project Director, said: “The original Mayflower voyage was all about exploration into a new world, and this project is to a large extent the same. It takes autonomous marine vessels to a new level and opens up countless scientific possibilities.

"We have made considerable progress over the past three years, and it is exciting to now see our vision taking shape as we continue preparations for the crossing next September.”


Mayflower Autonomous Ship

Images: Bob Stone, Human Interface Technology Team, University of Birmingham

Professor Kevin Jones, Executive Dean of Science and Engineering at the University of Plymouth, added: “This voyage has the potential to be a real game-changer and cements Plymouth’s reputation as a world-leading hub of marine science.

"It gives us the genuine capability to explore new and innovative research opportunities that have not previously been possible. It also raises the bar in terms of autonomous vessels, a world first that could set the standard for others in the field to follow.”

The final agreed design is for a trimaran-style vessel that includes three research pods packed with state-of-the-art monitoring equipment.

That will include acoustic, nutrient and temperature sensors, along with water and air samplers, that can create a picture of ocean conditions and mammal behaviour right across the Atlantic.

Work is well underway to build the vessel. The hull started construction at a shipyard in Poland earlier this week. It will return to Plymouth in Spring 2020, where the final outfitting and testing will be completed under the direction of ProMare and MSubs.

Mayflower Autonomous Ship

Images: Bob Stone, Human Interface Technology Team, University of Birmingham

Brett Phaneuf, Managing Director of MSubs, said: “This ship, the third Mayflower, will appropriately commemorate its predecessor’s voyage 400 years ago. It will also allow us to usher in a new phase of research with state-of-the-art technology. It enables us to once again put Plymouth on the map and celebrate the huge diversity of talent we have here, people who are interested in new beginnings and like to lean forward into new opportunities.”

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