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IBM will launch an autonomous ship that will investigate the ways of plastic accumulation in the Atlantic Ocean

The ship was built by the marine research organization ProMare * The computer systems on the ship will be based on artificial intelligence and cloud technologies and will allow it to navigate completely autonomously, avoid obstacles, and also help scientists understand the ways in which plastic waste accumulates in the oceans

The autonomous ship MAS that will investigate the concentrations of plastic in the Atlantic Ocean. Figure: IBM
The autonomous ship MAS that will investigate the concentrations of plastic in the Atlantic Ocean. Figure: IBM

IBM, together with the marine research organization ProMare, will launch an unmanned and fully autonomous ship that will cross the Atlantic Ocean next year and help scientists study the accumulation of plastic in the sea. The trip, planned for September next year, will also mark the 400th anniversary of the historic voyage of the Mayflower, which brought the first settlers from England to America.
The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) will use artificial intelligence, powerful servers and cloud and edge computing technologies from IBM to allow the ship to navigate autonomously and avoid obstacles in the middle of the sea as it makes its way from the port of Plymouth in England to Plymouth Massachusetts in the USA. It is expected to be the first time that a full-sized autonomous ship crosses the Atlantic Ocean under self-navigation.

The ship will carry on board three "pods" for research purposes, including a variety of sensors and scientific equipment that will be used to advance the understanding of areas such as mapping the sea and the plastic that pollutes the oceans, monitoring marine mammals and cyber security of vessels.,,. Researchers from Plymouth University in the UK are responsible for the research part of the journey. At the same time, researchers from the University of Birmingham in the UK will be responsible for using a variety of virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies on the MAS. In the computers that will be operated on board the ship and in the cloud, IBM's PowerAI technology will be integrated with IBM Power System servers - those used by the fastest supercomputers in the world. They will fuse data from nautical charts, sensors and weather forecasts to allow the MAS to calculate the optimal course and speed for crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

In addition, IBM will develop deep learning models for ProMare capable of identifying risks when they are captured by the cameras on the ship's bridge. The MAS will use IBM's Operational Decision Manager software that will help it decide autonomously whether to change its course or, in an emergency, to accelerate its speed to avoid danger. "IBM helped put humans on the moon 50 years ago, and now we are excited about the challenge of using advanced technologies to cross the world's deepest oceans," said Andy Stanford-Clark, Chief Technology Officer, IBM UK and Ireland.

One of the studies MAS will conduct will be to analyze water samples to gather information on the origin, distribution and potential impact of macroplastics in the ocean. According to Prof. Richard Thompson, Director of the Marine Institute at Plymouth University, "Microplastics are creating a big problem in the oceans. More than 700 different species come into contact with marine debris, from the poles to the equator. According to estimates, the amount of waste per day will triple by 2025. The autonomous Mayflower ship provides us with an opportunity to rethink how to collect data and advance the understanding of this global problem."

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