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article imageA very different kind of Mayflower is launching from Plymouth, UK

By Karen Graham     Sep 16, 2020 in Technology
Dignitaries, seafarers and scientists were gathering in Plymouth, England, on Wednesday to mark the 400th anniversary of the departure of the Mayflower, the ship that carried a group of Puritan settlers to a new life across the Atlantic Ocean.
There is a really big difference in the ship that is setting sail from Plymouth, England today, inroute to Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Puritans of 400 years ago would not recognize the technological marvel that is taking the Mayflower's place - a trimaran powered by the sun and steered by artificial intelligence.
A marine research organization ProMare and computing giant IBM created the ship with the hope that it will usher in a new generation of crewless high-tech vessels that can explore parts of oceans too difficult or dangerous for people to reach, according to WRAL Tech Wire.
Andy Stanford-Clark, chief technology officer for IBM U.K. and Ireland, said the ship’s launch “is a very exciting stage of the journey towards autonomous shipping” that could pave the way for AI-driven cargo ships and water taxis as well as research ships.
“Able to scan the horizon for possible hazards, make informed decisions and change its course based on a fusion of live data, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship has more in common with a modern bank than its 17th century namesake,” Stanford-Clark added. “With its ability to keep running in the face of the most challenging conditions, this small ship is a microcosm for every aspiring 21st century business.”
The global coronavirus pandemic put a crimp in the planned trans-Atlantic commemorations for the original Mayflower’s anniversary - delaying the voyage of its namesake until 2021. So perhaps it is just as well that the autonomous ship that sets sail today doesn't bear the Mayflower name.
Instead, it is called This is also the title of the website where the public can learn all about this ship, as well as the artificial intelligence (AI) used in creating a flexible, cost-effective and safe option for gathering critical data about the ocean.
 Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor   by William Halsall  1882 at Pilgrim Hall Museum  Plymouth  Massachus...
"Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor," by William Halsall, 1882 at Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA
William Halsall - created in 1882.
Six months of sea trials
MAS400 will undergo six months of sea trials and a few other short trips before setting out to cross the Atlantic Ocean next spring. It will be a busy voyage - primarily measuring the ocean health: assessing the impact of climate change, measuring micro-plastic pollution and studying populations of whales and dolphins.
Along the way, its AI captain will have to make complex decisions in response to wind, waves, vessels and unknown surprises. Don't be too surprised if you hear from Artie, a seven-legged octopus who has hitched a ride on MAS400.
“We’re quietly confident we’re going to make it,” Stanford-Clark said. “Ultimately, the sea will decide.”
Pokanoket Wampanoags marching
Pokanoket Wampanoags marching
Shaun C. Williams (CC BY 2.0)
Wednesday’s anniversary was meant to be the culmination of international Mayflower commemorations. Instead, it’s the start of a year of events, reports the Associated Press. Not only will commemorations this year include British, Americans, and Dutch, but the Wampanoag people, who are native to what is now New England.
In 1620, the Wampanoag helped the exhausted English settlers from the Mayflower survive their first winter. But soon colonial expansion, conflict and new diseases were having a devastating impact on North America’s indigenous peoples.
In past commemorations, Wampanoag stories have been marginalized - however, this year will be different. "It’s going a long way to lend balance to this story,” said Paula Peters, a Wampanoag writer and educator who has helped create anniversary exhibitions, including one opening later this month at The Box museum in Plymouth.
“We don’t expect people to take one side or the other,” Peters said. “But certainly the story of the Mayflower is one that really can’t be told without telling also the story of the Wampanoag.″
More about mayflower, 400th anniversary, Plymouth England, Ibm, autonomous ship
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