Mayflower Autonomous Ship: Pioneering Unmanned Research Across The Atlantic


  • The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS), a groundbreaking project launched in 2015 by Plymouth University, MSubs, and Shuttleworth Design, is the world’s first fully autonomous, AI-powered unmanned research ship.
  • Weighing 4,535kg and spanning 15m in length, MAS employs cutting-edge technology for meteorological, oceanographic, and climate-related research tasks.

Project Inception and Partners

Launched in 2015, MAS is a collaborative effort between Plymouth University, MSubs, and Shuttleworth Design. The project, part of Plymouth University’s “Shape the Future” campaign, garnered initial funding from the university, MSubs, and the ProMare Foundation. IBM joined the consortium in 2019, contributing to the global effort led by ProMare. The ship’s construction took over two years, with a one-year testing period, before its launch in September 2020.

Design and Features

With an overall length of 15m and a weight of 4,535kg, MAS features a trimaran design for enhanced stability and reduced wind resistance. The hull is crafted from glass/aramid/foam composites, while the deck utilizes carbon/Nomex materials. The ship incorporates a two-masted soft sail rig, allowing for various sail combinations based on wind speeds. The autonomous vessel is equipped with dual 20kW electric propulsion motors, powered by lithium-ion phosphate batteries and solar panels, enabling a top speed of 10 knots.

Navigation and Communication Systems

Operating without a human crew, MAS relies on an AI captain powered by MarineAI. Combining IBM technologies such as Visual Insights, Operational Decision Manager, and edge computing, MAS processes data from radar, AIS, GPS, nautical charts, and various onboard sensors. The RS24 radar system, with five times higher resolution, aids in hazard identification. Communication is facilitated by a Thales VesseLINK™ 700 terminal powered by Iridium Certus, ensuring onshore communication and tracking.

Cameras and Sensors

MAS carries three research pods equipped with over 30 sensors, including AI-powered cameras, weather data sensors, and a multi-parameter algae sensor. These pods serve diverse purposes, from sea level mapping to marine animal monitoring. Six AI-powered cameras provide visual input to an IBM computer vision system, identifying potential hazards during the voyage.

Propulsion and Environmental Impact

Featuring dual 20kW electric propulsion motors, MAS prioritizes environmental sustainability, emitting fewer carbon emissions compared to traditional diesel engines. Lithium-ion phosphate batteries and solar panels contribute to the vessel’s power supply. The rig design allows MAS to sail at a top speed of 10 knots, with an electric motoring speed of 12.5 knots.

Applications and Research Partners

MAS is designed for meteorological, oceanographic, and climate-related data gathering, making it a versatile research platform. Research partners include Chelsea Technologies, iXSea, NOAA Research, and several universities, contributing to various scientific endeavors such as sea state assessment, algae monitoring, and advanced satellite communications.

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Source: Ship Technology


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