IBM Attempts An Uncrewed Atlantic Crossing (Again)

IBM and a non-profit company, ProMare, failed to send their 49-foot Mayflower autonomous ship across the Atlantic back in June. Now they are almost ready to try again. The Mayflower will recreate the path of its more famous namesake.

The total voyage is set to take a month, but the last attempt developed mechanical problems after three days. Now they are running more sea trials closer to shore before attempting another crossing in 2022.

With a triple-hull design, this Mayflower doesn’t look much like an old sailing vessel and, in fact, uses a combination of power sources. The ship is supposed to use wind turbines, diesel, and solar power. However, according to a Washington Post article, a failure in the generator system reduced the ship’s power to where it was unable to complete its voyage.

The vessel has a number of sensors including six cameras. The “Captain” software uses AI rules that IBM describes as “explainable.” Crossing the Atlantic is one of those things that seems like it would be pretty easy, but handling every eventuality is probably a lot harder than it sounds.

Most of the crewless ships we’ve seen probably wouldn’t cross the Atlantic just on their size. We have, however, seen an attempt to automate cargo vessels.

23 thoughts on “IBM Attempts An Uncrewed Atlantic Crossing (Again)

  1. how big can these get before they need to be registered?

    when do they stop being models

    I know a guy that wants to tow a detection loop with an autonomous boat, I can’t not get any answers as to legal requirements

        1. If it’s taken out on one ocean-going ship, and brought back to port on another it doesn’t need to “dock”. Indeed, the fewer other ships/people it comes across the better, so you’d probably want to not have it start or end in a port anyway.

        1. @Pirate Lawyer said: Vessels are subject to the state who’s flag they are legally flying. No flag? I guess you won’t mind if I capture this boat then…”

          Not really…

          Simply put, seizing a ship because it isn’t flying a Flag of Registration is generally considered Piracy. So why stop there? Seize any ship you want whether it’s flying a Flag of Registration or not. Just don’t get caught!

          Today, because of widely accepted International Law [1], which has as its roots regarding seizure of ships based in the 1856 Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law [2], simply seizing a ship because it is not flying a Flag of Registration (a.k.a. Flag State or State Flag [3]) amounts to Piracy.

          That would not be the case however if you were carrying a valid Letter of Marque (or Letter of Marque and Reprisal) [4] issued by a country that takes exception to certain parts of International Law (usually because it is at War with another State).

          * References:

          1. International Law

          2. Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law

          3. Flag State

          4. Letter of Marque

  2. I’ve had a brief look at some articles about this thing and they seem mainly concerned with telling how wonderful it is, instead of telling more about what it is and what it can do.

    I also do not understand the form factor.
    It looks very impractical, in some (later?) versions they’ve put on some more solar panels but they seem more concerned with looks than with practicality. Solar panels do not fit well on those smallish rounded shapes. In this regard I like Jamie Mantzell’s solar boat a lot better It’s got a nice big sunroof made of solar panels.

    1. Seem like a good shape for the job to me – looks very efficient as a shape for cutting water, and stable enough to take rough seas with the multi hull design. Seems as they are going crewless they have prioritised needing as little motive effort as possible to make it move over maximum area to put energy capture on. With the same energy expenditure that thing should fly compared to a bigger boxy thing, or it needs much less energy to remain controllable.

      Also if you really want to you can get solar panels in other shapes and sizes, on flexible substrates or even assemble the little cells yourself to fit what you need, so I wouldn’t worry about those rounded shapes for fitting solar if you want/need to. The challenge will be actually getting energy from them all efficiently – you don’t want to put a more shaded panel on the same string as full direct sun ones – it drags the out put down, and might even cause damage..

    2. Of course any write up on the toy will be short of “what it can do” because it hasn’t done anything of note but conk out at sea because of mechanical problems.

      Doing sea trials close to shore is basically saying they don’t have all the bugs and design flaws worked out yet.

  3. It seems like a really good shape to me probably a lot more stable and aerodynamic then the boat that you linked to, and solar panels can be mounted on any surface with the right hardware.

  4. Looks like a toy. It should be interesting to see how it handles sailing around the horn of Africa and around the tip of South America with no human intervention.

    As for solar cells they are just a SOP to all the green types to make them feel good.

  5. Around 1972, Scholastic Scope featured some sort of egg-shaped instrument pod that would be placed in the ocean and Do Science. And never another word… I have my suspicions about how it wound up…

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