An autonomous Mayflower floats next to a replica of the original Mayflower, Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Unmanned robotic boat traced the Mayflower’s 1620 sea voyage Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

An unmanned robotic boat retracing the Mayflower’s 1620 voyage has landed near Plymouth Rock.

The elegant, self-contained Mayflower met an escort boat as it approached the Massachusetts coastline on Thursday, more than 400 years after its namesake’s historic voyage from England.

It was towed into Plymouth Harbor — under U.S. Coast Guard rules for unmanned vessels — and moored near a replica of the original Mayflower that brought the Pilgrims to America.

Piloted by artificial intelligence technology, the 50-foot (15-meter) trimaran had no captain, navigator or people on board.

The solar-powered ship’s first attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 2021 was plagued by technical problems that forced it to return to its home port of Plymouth, England — the same place the Pilgrim settlers set sail from in 1620.

He set off again from the south-west coast of England in April, but mechanical difficulties diverted him to the Portuguese Azores and then to Canada.

“When you don’t have anybody on board, you obviously can’t make the mechanical, physical adjustments that you need,” said Rob High, a software director at IBM who is helping work on the project. “It’s also part of the learning process.”

  • The unmanned robotic ship Mayflower reaches Plymouth Rock

    Brett Phaneuf, co-director of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship Project, left, stands on the deck of a tugboat as the autonomous ship Mayflower is guided to a replica of the original Mayflower, Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Unmanned robotic boat retraces the Mayflower’s 1620 sea voyage Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

  • The unmanned robotic ship Mayflower reaches Plymouth Rock

    Brett Phaneuf, co-director of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship Project, left, stands on the deck of a tugboat as the autonomous ship Mayflower is guided to a replica of the original Mayflower, Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Unmanned robotic boat retraces the Mayflower’s 1620 sea voyage Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

  • The unmanned robotic ship Mayflower reaches Plymouth Rock

    Brett Phaneuf, co-director of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship Project, gives a thumbs up after hailing the autonomous ship Mayflower, Thursday, June 30, 2022, off the coast of Plymouth, Massachusetts, after an unmanned voyage from Plymouth, England. Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

  • The unmanned robotic ship Mayflower reaches Plymouth Rock

    Brett Phaneuf, co-director of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship Project, left, holds the bow as the autonomous ship Mayflower docks next to a replica of the original Mayflower, Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Unmanned robotic boat retraces Mayflower’s 1620 sea voyage Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

  • The unmanned robotic ship Mayflower reaches Plymouth Rock

    The autonomous ship Mayflower drifts freely, Thursday, June 30, 2022, about twenty miles off the coast of Plymouth, Massachusetts, after an unmanned voyage from Plymouth, England. Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

  • The unmanned robotic ship Mayflower reaches Plymouth Rock

    Brett Phaneuf, co-director of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship Project, waves to the sports team through streaming cameras aboard the autonomous ship Mayflower, Thursday, June 30, 2022, off the coast of Plymouth, Massachusetts, after an unmanned voyage from Plymouth, England. Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

  • The unmanned robotic ship Mayflower reaches Plymouth Rock

    A tugboat approaches the autonomous Mayflower, Thursday, June 30, 2022, about twenty miles off the coast of Plymouth, Massachusetts, after an unmanned voyage from Plymouth, England. Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

  • The unmanned robotic ship Mayflower reaches Plymouth Rock

    Sea Tow Capt. Ethan Maas, left, hooks the bow line of the autonomous vessel Mayflower as Brett Phaneuf, co-director of the Autonomous Vessel Mayflower Project, looks on, Thursday, June 30, 2022, off the coast of Plymouth, Mass., after a trip without a crew from Plymouth, England. Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

On Monday it departed Halifax, Nova Scotia for a successful 4-day voyage to Plymouth Harbour.

The non-profit marine research organization ProMare worked with IBM to build the vessel and uses it to collect data on whales, microplastic pollution and for other scientific research. Small autonomous experimental ships have crossed the Atlantic before, but the researchers describe this as the first vessel of this size to do so.

The completion of the voyage “means we can start analyzing data from the ship’s voyage” and delve into the performance of the AI ​​system, High said. He said the prospect of such unmanned vessels sailing the seas on a continuous basis would make it easier to collect “all kinds of things that interest marine scientists”.


The autonomous Mayflower reaches American shores – in Canada


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