Johnson said the high-tech ship, developed jointly by British-based marine research organization ProMare and U.S. tech giant IBM, showed that “the pioneering spirit of the Mayflower really lives on” in the trans-Atlantic partnership.
“We’re heading out with the same spirit of adventure and determination and vision for the future” as the original colonists, the American diplomat said.
Like the Mayflower in 1620, the new vessel will travel from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, but on a marine research trip rather than a colony-founding journey. The coronavirus pandemic has delayed its trip until the spring of 2021.
The ship’s launch in Plymouth, 200 miles southwest of London, is part of Mayflower commemorations disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. They involve British, Americans and Dutch institutions — many of the 17th-century Pilgrims had fled England for Holland in the years before the voyage — and the Wampanoag people, who had lived for thousands of years in what is now New England.
In 1620, the Wampanoag helped the exhausted Mayflower settlers survive their first winter. But soon colonial expansion, conflict and new diseases were having a devastating impact on North America’s indigenous peoples.
Wampanoag stories have been marginalized on past Mayflower anniversaries, but they are playing a big part in events and exhibitions this time around.
’It’s going a long way to lend balance to this story,” said Paula Peters, a Wampanoag writer and educator who has helped create anniversary exhibitions.
“We don’t expect people to take one side or the other,” Peters said. “But certainly the story of the Mayflower is one that really can’t be told without telling also the story of the Wampanoag.″
The Mayflower Autonomous Ship — its creators decided against a snappier name — is intended to be the first in a new generation of crewless high-tech vessels that can explore parts of oceans too difficult or dangerous for people to reach.
Andy Stanford-Clark, chief technology officer for IBM U.K. and Ireland, said the ship’s launch “is a very exciting stage of the journey toward autonomous shipping” that could pave the way for AI-driven cargo ships, water taxis and research vessels — as well as warships.
The 50-foot trimaran will undertake six months of sea trials and short trips before setting out on its trans-Atlantic trip to measure ocean health: assessing the impact of climate change, measuring micro-plastic pollution and studying populations of whales and dolphins.
Along the way, its AI captain will have to make complex decisions in response to wind, waves, vessels and unknown surprises.
“We’re quietly confident we’re going to make it,” Stanford-Clark said. “Ultimately, the sea will decide.”