SWANSEA, Wales (AP) — Four centuries and one year after the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth
, England, on a historic sea voyage to America
, another pioneering vessel bearing the same name has set sail to retrace the voyage.
This Mayflower, on the other hand, is a sleek, modern robotic ship with no human crew or passengers, piloted by sophisticated artificial intelligence technology for a trans-Atlantic crossing that could take up to three weeks, as part of a project aimed at revolutionizing marine research
The Mayflower Autonomous Ship, which was built by IBM in collaboration with the nonprofit marine research organization ProMare, set sail early Tuesday.
The Mayflower is set to land in Provincetown
, Cape Cod
, before sailing to Plymouth, Massachusetts
, following in the footsteps of its namesake from 1620. If successful, it will be the largest autonomous vessel to cross the Atlantic.
The new Mayflower's voyage was originally planned for last year as part of the 400th anniversary
commemorations of the original ship's voyage carrying Pilgrim settlers to New England
, which were to include the British
, Americans, Dutch — and the Wampanoag people
on whose territory the settlers landed, who had been marginalized on previous anniversaries.
The Mayflower project aims to usher in a new era of automated research ships, with the designers hoping that it will be the first of a new generation of high-tech vessels capable of exploring ocean
regions that are too difficult or dangerous for humans to visit.
The 50-foot (15-meter) trimaran, propelled by a solar-powered hybrid electric motor, is outfitted with artificial intelligence-powered cameras and dozens of onboard sensors to collect data on ocean acidification, microplastics, and marine mammal conservation
The coronavirus pandemic
, and more recently, bad weather throughout May, have both pushed back the launch date, according to IBM spokesman Jonathan Batty.
However, according to Batty, the delay allowed for the installation of a one-of-a-kind feature on the ship: Hypertaste, an electric "tongue" capable of providing instant analysis of the ocean's chemistry.
“It’s a completely new piece of equipment that has never been made before,” Batty explained.
If forecasts for good weather hold true, the cutting-edge 1 million pound ($1.3 million) ship could take up to three weeks to cross the North Atlantic.
The ship is also carrying mementos from people on both ends of the journey, such as rocks, personal photos
, and books, and its journey can be tracked online.