The Mayflower was a ship that carried English pilgrims to America. More than 400 years later, technological innovation has produced a robot that followed the same arduous voyage of the historic ship.
The historic Mayflower, a boat that set out from England in 1620 on its way to North America, became the name of an AI piloted boat that attempted to retrace the same voyage that brought pilgrims to American shores.. The robotic vessel piloted by artificial intelligence and fueled with nothing but determination passed through many obstacles along the journey which lasted over five weeks. However, it docked in Canada instead of Massachusetts.
The Mayflower Autonomous Ship was a huge, 15-meter long vessel that traveled without any humans on board. It served as its own captain and navigator but lacked the abilities mechanics could provide to help steer itself toward its destination.
The AI-piloted trimaran finally arrived in Nova Scotia after more than a month-long voyage, as recorded by tech company IBM who was responsible for the robot.
“The technology that makes up the autonomous system worked perfectly, flawlessly,” said IBM computing executive Rob High, who contributed to the project. “Mechanically, we did run into problems.”
After several attempts to retrace their historic route, it became clear that there were going to be technical difficulties. In its first attempt, the boat returned home in June 2021 after experiencing glitches with the engine’s electronics system. In April, a generator problem occurred, which caused them to steer towards Portugal. Someone on shore managed to send out an emergency repair team who helped bring everything back under control once again. However, another problem arose: this time due to damaged batteries located inside the generator starter batteries..
The self-repair problem has been a limit for robots. Self driving cars have shown improvement with AI software, but still face problems when there is an issue in their hardware because they cannot fix it themselves like humans can do.
Non-profit marine research organization ProMare helped build the ship and switched it to a backup navigation computer on May 30 to chart an alternate course to Halifax, bringing it closer to a U.S. destination. IBM reported that on Sunday morning, a large boat helped it near the Halifax skyline, following the safety requirement under international maritime rules.