Drone ship to recreate voyage of the Mayflower for 400th anniversary

A crowdfunding campaign is being launched to develop an autonomous ship to head up the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower from Plymouth, UK, to Plymouth, USA.

The original Mayflower carried the Pilgrims from England to America in 1620, meaning its landmark anniversary will be celebrated in 2020. The new campaign is looking to raise £300,000 for the next design and development stage.

When completed, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) will be able to be controlled either by a computer or a shore-based captain utilising a virtual bridge. It will be sailed out of Plymouth via remote control, and will then switch to autonomous control to finish its voyage across the sea.

The ship will be powered by solar energy and will make use of emerging battery and renewable energy capture technologies. In addition, it will have unmanned aerial vehicles and life rafts onboard that can act as a first responder to emergency calls from other mariners.

A rendering of the autonomous ship, which will recreate the landmark voyage in four years time. Image and featured image courtesy of Bowater Communications

A rendering of the autonomous ship, which will recreate the landmark voyage in four years time. Image and featured image courtesy of Bowater Communications

Autonomy is appearing across the vehicle industry, with driverless cars in steady development and planes making use of heavy computer assistance. And while drone cargo ships are already in development, the MAS could well serve as the pilot project for smaller vessels.

Following its celebratory launch, the ship will be capable of various usages, perhaps most notably travelling to inhospitable parts of the world to conduct scientific research and collect data. If proved successful, more such ships could follow; their potential to go into areas otherwise hostile to humans offering up an attractive prospect to the scientific community, as well as others.

“So far we have the plans, the passion, the potential and now all we need is to get it to production,” explains Patrick Dowsett, who spent 30 years in the British Royal Navy, including time as the commander of HMS Northumberland.

“It is ground-breaking in so many ways and will put Plymouth on the global map for marine science excellence. We are offering everyone a chance to get involved in this incredible Devon project. This first stage will nail down the planning, the testing, the project development and the modelling to enable us to start the build of the real thing in 2018.”

A replica of the original Mayflower, which is based in the US. Image courtesy of Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

A replica of the original Mayflower, which is based in the US. Image courtesy of Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

In order to fund the next stage of development, which will include robust wave tank scale-model testing, the team behind the project have opened up a crowdfunding campaign that offers up such rewards as having you or your family’s name marked on the ship.

Larger rewards include invitations to the launch and other VIP events.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship is a collaborative project between Plymouth submarine builder MSubs, Plymouth University and charitable marine research foundation Promare. It is hoped that the project will see the MAS serve as the flagship of the Mayflower 400 celebrations upon its launch.

The farms of the future may well be like factories

A new report has indicated that massive changes will be coming to the agricultural markets within the next ten years, perhaps most notably farming, courtesy of various advances in robotics and drones.

The report, by IDTechEx Research, highlights how these technologies will enter into different aspects of agriculture, transforming the methods behind farming and having a significant impact on the workforce in the process.

Probably the largest change coming to farming is the mass-scale automation that looks to be employed across various aspects of the industry.

While current farms are by no means stuck using purely antiquated methods – there are already thousands of robotic milking parlours across the world, for example – there are large sections of the work that are still reliant on human workers.

This is due to both the fact that many robots are not currently smart enough to perform crucial tasks and regulatory measures; as with autonomous technologies in general there is considerable legislation involved in approving their usage.


However, it seems that in the next ten years we can expect to see ever-smarter robots taking over those roles that we previously had set aside for humans.

Notably, these technologies will not only be independently advancing the farming processes, but can contribute to elements of each other’s roles.

In the air, for example, both remote-controlled and autonomous drones will map the farms below them. That’s data that can then be used to better guide the small robots that will be navigating among crops, analysing the plants and removing weeds.

These robots will then learn their routes the more they are deployed to better navigate themselves.


On a broad scale then, we can see that farming is set to radically change in the next few years as more and more of the jobs that have been traditionally limited to human workers are taken over by autonomous robots. It appears that agriculture is set to join the other industries that will rely on workforces transforming into engineers for the robots that are automating their former roles.

In the fields and in the sky, farming will be essentially run by a series of robotic workers capable of working autonomously just as soon as they are set to the job. Arguably, within the next ten years, we will see farmers transition from oversight of their crops and cattle to oversight of a vast fleet of robots and drones handling the daily work.

Visiting these farms, you won’t be looking at groups of workers assigned to do their various, individual duties but sections of robots discreetly trundling among crops, aided by drones overhead with their mapping while, in the background, tractors steer themselves around their duties.

We can predict that the drone will be the focal point, the farmer’s point of view that then sees a robotic workforce set to their various duties then left to run their processes automatically, occasionally put back on course by a fruit picker-turned-engineer.