Meeting Notes : IBM Mayflower Autonomous Ship

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

You know when you listen to someone else's job and think "I want to do that". That was me tonight that was.....

In our first webinar of 2021, TechSolent organised a presentation from IBM's Andy Stanford-Clark, CTO for UK and Ireland and Isle of Wight resident, discussing IBM's Mayflower Autonomous Ship project. We had 33 attendees across the full spectrum of TechSolent memberships, covering Tech companies, Education establishments, Local Government and supporting businesses, and it was an excellent discussion.

Andy explained the premise of the project, which was:

- Create a ship that is capable of sailing itself from the UK to the US, following in the footsteps of the original Mayflower from 1620

- Use cutting edge technology to ensure the ship copes with everything the journey can throw at it, such as:

- Big waves

- Bad weather

- Other ships

- Icebergs

- Pirates!

- Whilst performing the journey, use the onboard technology to perform scientific experiments to contribute to broader scientific endeavour

- Create a platform for future autonomous shipping as an industry

This project clearly presents some interesting technical challenges. Obviously, training an Artificially Intelligent Captain (who needs a name) to respond to the ever changing conditions is the first one. Designs have considered how to sail over waves (to avoid being flipper over), how to conform to the COLREGS and SOLAS rules of the sea to avoid collisions, how to ensure the solar panel based power systems were operating efficiently etc. The vessel itself clearly didn't need to accommodate humans on its journey, but as a scientific research project, it needed to contain a lot of quite complex scientific equipment and sufficient connectivity to be able to report back on progress.

The onboard science stuff was amazing. The project is doing a lot of interesting testing on the way, from sea chemical content and micro plastics, to validating the shape of the earth, to monitoring whale song to see if you can recognise individual pods within the oceans. It has a "hypertaste tongue" that dips in the sea every now and again and "tastes" for chemicals. Beyond being a cool and interesting project, the team are clearly trying to solve some interesting hypotheses regarding our broader maritime ecosystem.

Going live in April this year, much of the activity will be streamed via and all of the technical details are contained on this page. This is what technology should be, not just making life more convenient for us all, but genuinely pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved against some of the bigger problems we could potentially face in the future.

We spent the last 5 minutes discussing the TechSolent concept and how to build the community. There are clearly a lot of people in the Tech industry in the Solent region who are keen to build a community beneficial network, solving big problems and driving forward the Solent region economically and beyond. More on how we can achieve that later......

Thanks to Andy for his excellent presentation, and to all the attendees for their interactive engagement. Next one in March.


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