Voyage aims to highlight possibilities of autonomous ocean science

The University of Plymouth is aiming to highlight the future potential of autonomous ocean science as part of a pioneering voyage commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) had been due to set sail from Plymouth this year and attempt to complete a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed its departure, however it is now hoped the ship will make its way from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Massachusetts in the Spring of 2021.

In advance of that, and marking the actual anniversary of the Mayflower’s departure, a naming ceremony is taking place in the city to give people the first opportunity to see the new ship in the flesh. If successful, it will be one of the first self-navigating, full-sized vessels to cross the Atlantic and opens the door on a new era of autonomous research ships.

The project is being coordinated through a consortium headed by marine research organisation ProMare. The research element of the voyage is being coordinated by the University, IBM and ProMare, and will focus on core areas including marine mammal detection, marine plastics and ocean chemistry.

Professor Kevin Jones, Executive Dean of Science and Engineering at the University, said:

“Through vessels such as the Mayflower Autonomous Ship and our very own CETUS, the University is at the forefront of using unmanned vessels for cutting-edge ocean science. This technology has the undoubted potential to be a game changer in the field, enabling us to capture data which can transform our understanding of the oceans and the impact climate change and other factors are having on them. The wider project is also an example of how science, industry and the community can come together for mutual benefit, something we are also championing through our involvement in initiatives such as the Marine Business Technology Centre and Smart Sound Plymouth.”

The naming ceremony is one of a number of events taking place in Plymouth to mark the anniversary of the Mayflower’s sailing, with others including a roundtable event at Oceansgate in the city, featuring officials from across the city, including the University’s Director of Industrial and Strategic Partnerships Kevin Forshaw and Professor Richard Thompson OBE, Director of the Marine Institute.

Reconsidering the Mayflower

The passengers onboard the original Mayflower had little idea of what they were about to endure, and would have had no idea that their journey, and their experiences of settlement, would become a narrative of national origins.

They certainly couldn’t have contemplated that 400 years on, a vessel sharing the name Mayflower would make the same journey, without a single soul on board, and powered not by sails but by solar power.

400 years later, Dr Kathryn Gray, Associate Professor in Early American Literature, reflects on our assumptions about the Mayflower’s voyage and its consequences.

Read Kathryn’s opinion piece on the Mayflower

Mayflower 400: Legacies and Futures online curation

The Legacies and Futures digital curation seeks to frame and interrogate colonial heritage. This project re-frames the more familiar Mayflower narrative within more flexible, inclusive and varied parameters.

In 2020, we remember the departure of the Mayflower from Plymouth harbour four hundred years ago. Plymouth was a final stop on a journey to North America, a final stop on a voyage to colonise and conquer the people and landscapes of North America.

This curation, which includes commentary and insights from Indigenous and non-Indigenous contributors, collects and presents new observations about the way that we narrate, visualise and remember the past.

/University Release. The material in this public release comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.