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Wednesday, March 24, 2021 

The UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) has announced its support of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) project, which will see one of the first Transatlantic crossings of a fully-autonomous vessel.

Important geospatial data from the UKHO will support the first part of the vessel’s journey from Plymouth, UK to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Built by a marine research non-profit with support from IBM, MAS is designed to provide scientists with a flexible and cost-effective platform for collecting critical data about the health of the ocean and further the technological development of marine autonomous systems.

The voyage is expected to commence in Spring 2021 and take about three weeks. UKHO has facilitated meetings with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to enable the MAS team to secure similar data for the approach to its final destination. The data from the UKHO will complement updates from IBM’s The Weather Company, which include 500m resolution weather forecasts and predictions along the route in order to help MAS avoid running into severe weather.

With no human captain or onboard crew, MAS uses AI and automation. The ship’s AI captain performs a similar role to a human captain. By assimilating data from a number of sources, the AI captain constantly assesses the ship’s route, status and mission, and makes decisions about what to do next. To support the project, the UKHO is working with the MAS team on solving the challenge of so-called ‘machine readable data’. This is a key challenge that the maritime industry must overcome to enable autonomous or semi-autonomous vessels at scale; by creating data that is suitable for machines rather than basing the technology on datasets made for humans or current Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs).

Mark Casey, UKHO Head of Research, Design and Innovation, said: “It is an honour to be able to support the Mayflower Autonomous Ship with the marine geospatial information that the UKHO holds. Clearly, the first Transatlantic crossing of an autonomous vessel is a huge milestone for our sector. Focusing on the challenge of machine readable data is one of the key ways that our sector will be able to scale autonomy as a widespread solution. We are proud to be at the forefront of innovation in this area and we will continue to work with our partners and colleagues across the sector to help unlock the potential of marine autonomy.”

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