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.
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.”
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.