U.K.’s Plymouth University, autonomous craft specialists MSubs, and yacht designers Shuttleworth Design, have launched pioneering project to design, build and sail the world’s first full-sized, fully autonomous unmanned ship across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Mayflower Autonomous Research Ship, codenamed MARS, will be powered by renewable energy technology, and will carry a variety of drones through which it will conduct experiments during the crossing. MARS is expected to be constructed within the next two-and-a-half years.
Following a year-long testing phase, the planned voyage in 2020 will also mark the 400th anniversary of the original Mayflower sailings from Plymouth to the North American continent.
”MARS has the potential to be a genuine world-first, and will operate as a research platform, conducting numerous scientific experiments during the course of its voyage. And it will be a test bed for new navigation software and alternative forms of power, incorporating huge advancements in solar, wave and sail technology. As the eyes of the world follow its progress, it will provide a live educational resource to students – a chance to watch, and maybe participate in history in the making,” Professor Kevin Jones, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Plymouth University, said.
Plymouth-based firm MSubs will be leading on the construction. The company’s Managing Director Brett Phaneuf said the project would confront current regulations governing autonomous craft at sea, and confirmed that conversations had already been initiated with bodies such as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and DNV GL, the international certification and classification society.
”While advances in technology have propelled land and air-based transport to new levels of intelligent autonomy, it has been a different story on the sea,” Brett said.
”The civilian maritime world has, as yet, been unable to harness the autonomous drone technology that has been used so effectively in situations considered unsuitable for humans. It begs the question, if we can put a rover on Mars and have it autonomously conduct research, why can’t we sail an unmanned vessel across the Atlantic Ocean and, ultimately, around the globe? That’s something we are hoping to answer with MARS.”
The concepts are being worked on by Isle of Wight-based Shuttleworth Design, and they will be preparing scale models for testing in the University’s Marine Building.
Many of the features of the trimaran are yet to be finalised, but it is expected to take advantage of advancements in solar panel technology to provide the energy required for its propulsion.
”We want the vessel to really capture the imagination. It’s of a scale unmatched by anything in the civilian world,” Orion Shuttleworth said.
The multi-million pound project is part of the University’s ‘Shape the Future’ fundraising Campaign, recently launched at the U.K.’s House of Lords. Initial funding has been provided by the University, MSubs, and the ProMare Foundation, and corporate and private sponsorship will be sought for ongoing support.