Mayflower Autonomous Ship to Retrace the Famous Historical Voyage, Powered by NVIDIA Jetson

In 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Massachusetts changing the history of the world.

Four hundred years later, a fully autonomous ship will cross the Atlantic and retrace the route of the original Mayflower – this time with no human captain, or onboard crew.

Not only will the ship commemorate the anniversary of the Mayflower’s famous historical voyage, but also advance technologies that will help transform the future of marine science and waterborne transportation.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship project is led by marine research organization Promare in collaboration with IBM and other partners.

“Over the past two years, the Mayflower team have been training the ship’s AI models using over a million nautical images collected from cameras in the Plymouth Sound in the UK as well as open source databases,” the IBM team stated in a press release. This month they will test a prototype ‘AI Captain’ that will navigate the Mayflower when it sets sail from Plymouth UK to Plymouth Massachusetts in September this year.

Using IBM Power AC922 systems, comprised of IBM POWER9 CPUs and NVIDIA V100 Tensor Core GPUs, the team trained their system to classify ships, buoys, and other hazards, including land, breakwaters, and debris.

Because the ship will not have access to high-bandwidth cloud services during the voyage, the fully autonomous system will rely on NVIDIA Jetson AGX Xavier for inference at the edge. 

“While at sea, the AI Captain will process data locally on NVIDIA Jetson, increasing the speed of decision making and reducing the amount of data flow and storage on the ship,” the IBM team stated.

The system relies on IBM computer vision technology and NVIDIA Jetson-powered edge systems to circumnavigate ships and other hazards. It also takes into account data from a variety of sensors and tools, including sea-state sensors, cameras, GPS, lidar, sonar, and meteorological models from The Weather Company.

The ship will carry research pods with equipment to sample water for microplastic pollution,  study whale and dolphin sounds, as well as map sea levels.

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