Autonomous ship forced to return home days after launch

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS400) has been forced to return home, following a mechanical problem.

The self-operating vessel, which departed on Tuesday 15th June from the UK, was attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean to the USA.

Two days after the Mayflower Autonomous Ship launched, the ProMare team detected a small mechanical issue. Although the organisers, ProMare and IBM, are unsure of what the problem is exactly, they suspect it’s to do with hybrid power system. Rather than risk a bigger problem further down the line, ProMare decided to turn the ship around so they can assess the issue back at base.

Over the weekend, the ship traveled roughly 100km back to the UK before the decision was made to power down the system.

A recovery vessel reached MAS400 on Monday 21 June. It is currently bringing the ship back to base, where the team plans to assess and repair the ship before relaunching.

With no humans onboard, the research vessel uses IBM’s automation, AI and edge computing technologies to make decisions based on its status, environment and mission.

The vessel’s electric drive system and generators are powered by Fischer Panda.

MAS was launched from Turnchapel Wharf, Plymouth, UK and was heading towards Provincetown, Massachusetts, where it was expected to travel to the U.S. port of Plymouth. It’s unclear how much of a delay the mechanical issue will cause.

Despite the setback, ProMare are still confident in MAS, with all other systems running as they should.

Speaking to The Washington Post, Brett Phaneuf, co-founder of the ocean research nonprofit Promare and co-director of the project, said: ““It’s disappointing. We still don’t know exactly what happened. But out of an abundance of caution, we have to get her back.”

People can follow the ship’s progress via the mission dashboard. The team also provide regular updates on its Twitter account:

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