A crewless robotic boat that tried to retrace the Mayflower’s 1620 voyage has finally reached the coast of North America—this time in Canada instead of the Massachusetts coast where its name landed more than 400 years ago.
The sleek autonomous trimaran docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Sunday, more than five weeks after crossing the Atlantic Ocean from England, according to tech company IBM, which helped build it.
Powered by artificial intelligence technology, the 50-foot (15-metre) Mayflower Autonomous Ship did not have a captain, navigator, or any human at all – though it could have helped a mechanic.
“The technology that makes autonomous systems work perfectly, flawlessly,” said Rob High, an IBM computing executive involved in the project. “Mechanically, we ran into problems.”
Its first attempt at a trans-Atlantic crossing in Plymouth, Massachusetts in June 2021 was marred by technical glitches.The boat was forced to return to its home port of Plymouth, England.
It sailed again from England bound for Virginia on 27 April about a year later – but a generator problem diverted it to Portugal’s Azores islands, where a team member flew in to make emergency repairs. More trouble in the open sea came in late May when a US-bound boat developed a problem with the charging circuit for the generator’s starter battery.
AI software is getting better at helping self-driving machines sense their surroundings and pilot themselves, but most robots can’t fix themselves if the hardware malfunctions.
Promair, a non-profit marine research organization working with IBM to build the ship, switched on a back-up navigation computer on May 30 and prepared a course for Halifax – closer than any US destination . IBM said Sunday morning the boat’s webcam showed it was being towed by a large boat near the Halifax skyline – a safety requirement under international maritime regulations.