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Crewless Mayflower ship retracing 1620 journey arrives at Plymouth Rock


A crewless robotic boat retracing the 1620 sea voyage of the Mayflower has landed near Plymouth Rock.

The sleek Mayflower Autonomous Ship met with an escort boat because it approached the Massachusetts shoreline Thursday, greater than 400 years after its namesake’s historic journey from England.

It was towed into Plymouth Harbor — per U.S. Coast Guard rules for crewless vessels — and docked near a duplicate of the unique Mayflower that brought the Pilgrims to America.

Piloted by artificial intelligence technology, the 50-foot trimaran didn’t have a captain, navigator or any humans on board.

The solar-powered ship’s first attempt to cross the Atlantic in 2021 was beset with technical problems, forcing it back to its home port of Plymouth, England — the identical place the Pilgrim settlers sailed from in 1620.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship didn’t have a captain, navigator or some other humans on board. AP

Mayflower Autonomous ShipThe journey was solely piloted by artificial intelligence technology.AP

It set off from the southwest English coast again in April, but mechanical difficulties diverted it to Portugal’s Azores islands after which to Canada.

“If you don’t have anybody onboard, you obviously can’t do the mechanical, physical fixes which might be needed,” said Rob High, a software executive at IBM helping to work on the project. “That’s also a part of the educational process.”

On Monday, the ship departed Halifax, Nova Scotia for a successful 4-day journey to Plymouth Harbor.

Nonprofit marine research organization ProMare worked with IBM to construct the ship and has been using it to gather data about whales, microplastics pollution and for other scientific research. Small autonomous experimental vessels have crossed the Atlantic before, but researchers describe it as the primary ship of its size to achieve this.

The voyage’s completion “means we are able to start analyzing data from the ship’s journey” and dig into the AI system’s performance, High said. 

High added the prospect of such crewless vessels navigating the seas on a continuous basis will make it easier to gather “all of the sorts of things that marine scientists care about.”

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