Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) 400 arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on June 5th, completing an Atlantic crossing and becoming the largest unmanned craft to complete such a journey.
“The journey she made across was arduous,” said project director Brett Phaneuf and founding board member of ProMare the non-profit maritime research organization that led the effort. He noted that the AI technology that navigated the craft had functioned, although they had experienced “intermittent, low-level failures”, which prompted the decision to divert to Canada and end the voyage with a tow into Halifax. “We decided not to tempt fate”, he said.
The MAS 400 sailed an estimated at 3,490 miles in 40 days, which included an unplanned two-week layover in the Azores after certain mechanical failures. After tests and refuelling, the voyage resumed.
However, when the vessel was within 1,000 miles of North America, it began to experience additional power problems, forcing the vessel onto backup systems. Halifax, Nova Scotia, was selected as a port of refuge. After clearing a heavy storm, the team decided to take up an opportunity and had a Dominion diving vessel meet up with the Mayflower and tow it the final 186 miles.
While the vessel did not reach its intended target of Washington DC, the team said that the trip had taught it “a great deal about designing, building, and operating a ship of this nature and the future of the maritime enterprise.”
The project started in 2016 with the goal of reducing the cost of marine data collection through artificial intelligence. Following two years of design, construction, and AI model training, the Mayflower was launched in September 2020. A 2021 attempt at the crossing was aborted after just three days, due to the failure of a power coupling.
The team will conduct additional testing to diagnose the current problem and make repairs. After a stay in Halifax that could last up to three weeks, they hope to sail to Massachusetts and later on to Washington DC. The Mayflower will remain in the US