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Tuesday, June 16, 2020 

The Mayflower Autonomous ship is expected to become one of the first unmanned, fully-autonomous vessels to cross the Atlantic as it retraces the voyage of its famous 17th century namesake, with sea trials expected later this year.

A global consortium led by marine research organisation ProMare, and including IBM as well as Wärtsilä, the project is developing autonomous systems that can later be deployed commercially. At the heart of the vessel is IBM's 'AI Captain' system that will enable the vessel to sense, think and make decisions at sea. A key element in that decision-making process will be the Wärtsilä RS24, a high-speed, high-resolution FMCW K-Band radar (24GHz) designed to provide high levels of situational awareness in densely populated marine environments. The RS24 radar system will work in tandem with the Mayflower’s onboard cameras, AIS, and navigational systems which will constantly evaluate the Mayflower’s environment to modify the ship’s course in order to avoid debris and storms.

The RS24 is was employed as one of the primary sensors onboard the Wärtsilä IntelliTug, which has undergone successful autonomy trials in Singapore waters. It has a five times higher resolution than existing marine S and X-Band radars with spin cycles of 60 rpm. This enables resolution separation of small crafts in crowded waters, especially in close proximity to the vessel, and will allow the Mayflower to navigate safely in complex situations.

Brett Phaneuf, Co-Founder of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship Project, said: “Our team has followed the development of technologies applicable to ship autonomy, and when selecting systems for the Mayflower project, we quickly recognised that the Wärtsilä RS24 was the perfect radar solution. Having Wärtsilä as a partner really helps the project; they understand the marine environment and how the various instruments should be designed, deployed, operated and maintained, plus they have tremendous experience in integrating systems."

“We are pleased to provide our latest, high-resolution radar technology, the RS24, as an integral component of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project. This will form the primary instrument for acquiring and tracking targets, and maintaining situational awareness at a scale that allows for early path planning and hazard reduction. This is a unique and highly significant project, and Wärtsilä is honoured to participate in this partnership,” said Dr Sasha Heriot, Business Development Manager, Wärtsilä Voyage.

The Mayflower will support the development of a flexible and cost-effective platform for oceanographic research and act as a testbed for new navigation software, renewable energy, and propulsion systems. At 15m in length and weighing 5 tons, the Mayflower is small and fast, so will benefit from a highly responsive short-range radar to help detect and avoid objects in the water.

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