Ship With AI Captain And No Crew Sets Sail For The First Time

by : Emily Brown on : 16 Sep 2020 10:30
Ship With AI Captain And No Crew Will Set Sail TodayShip With AI Captain And No Crew Will Set Sail TodayAI_Mayflower/Twitter/BBC

A ship with an AI captain and no crew has set sail today on one of the world’s first autonomous transatlantic voyages to gather data about the state of the ocean. 

‘Look at me! I’m the captain now’ is what the artificial intelligence (AI) onboard the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) might say if it had eyes to look into – and if it had a crew to say it to.


The full-size, fully-autonomous research ship has been created through a collaboration between nonprofit marine research organisation Promare and IBM, a global consortium of partners and scientific organisations, and it is set to spend the next six months venturing the seas.

Launching from Plymouth in the UK today, September 16, the MAS will travel to Plymouth, Massachusetts, all the while self-navigating with its intelligent onboard technology.

The ‘AI captain’ will decide its every move, having been trained with a range of images of things it might encounter while at sea, such as seagulls, boats and icebergs.


Andy Stanford-Clark, chief technology officer for IBM in the UK, explained to the BBC that the AI will recognise what to avoid, including both physical barriers and potentially dangerous weather events.

The ship is also equipped with a ‘rules-based system’ that determines if the course proposed by the AI is legal.

While on its journey, the MAS will use onboard equipment to gather data that aims to advance research in plastic pollution and global warming. With no crew on board, the entirety of the ship can be dedicated to science.


The MAS will trace the route of the original 1620 Mayflower to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the famous voyage.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Now, Plastic Pollution, plymouth


  1. BBC

    Ship with no crew to sail across the Atlantic