Transatlantic autonomous vessel voyage is planned for 2020

Shipowners’ Club has reported on the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project (MAS), which it described as “an innovative new venture to design, build and sail the world’s first fully autonomous vessel across the Atlantic Ocean”.

Marine tech company MSubs, Plymouth University and charitable research foundation Promare are developing a 21-metre autonomous vessel based on a classic Oyster hull.

The vessel was expected to take two years to build, outfit and complete rigorous sea trials. In the meantime, a small six metre vessel, named Christopher Jones after the original Master of the Mayflower, was being used to develop and test the autonomy and supporting systems necessary to navigate safely and control the sailing rig.

The planned voyage was set for 2020

Professor Jones of Plymouth University said that the project had “the potential to be a genuine world-first on multiple levels. It is not just a fully autonomous research vessel but also a vessel powered by clean energy, through its solar, sail and wave technology. The 2020 Mayflower voyage will demonstrate new navigation software and the effectiveness of alternative sources of power.”

The vessel will be powered by renewable energy and where necessary compliant with maritime regulations. The vessel is to have undergone an extensive sea trial period and be ready to participate in the Mayflower 400 Commemorations in 2020.

Due to the absence of humans on board, the ship has been designed to function purely as a machine. However, Professor Jones spoke of the intention for the Mayflower to be fitted with a limited number of lifesaving appliances, which will enable the vessel to render assistance to conventional manned vessels in the unfortunate event of an emergency at sea.

Upon successful completion of the Trans-Atlantic voyage it is intended for the vessel to circumnavigate the globe, where the Mayflower will be used for completing scientific research in conjunction with Underwater Autonomous Vehicles (UAVs) which will be deployed from the vessel. The data will then be relayed ashore for analysis.

Over the course of its development, Shipowners’ Club said that it would be providing periodic updates on the progress of the Mayflower build, “offering Members’ real-time insight into the construction of an autonomous vessel”.