University Building Fully Autonomous Ship

Image courtesy of Shuttleworth Design

By The Maritime Executive 08-07-2015 12:07:34

In a move that could reshape the shipping industry, Plymouth University in the U.K. has launched a project to build a full-sized and fully-autonomous ship. The Mayflower Autonomous Research Ship (MARS) is being developed in partnership with MSubs and Shuttleworth Design, who bring knowledge of autonomous vessels and yacht design respectively. Plymouth University states that this is the first-ever project of its kind. 

MARS is expected to take two and a half years to build and will sail across the Atlantic in 2020 after a year-long testing phase. 2020 was chosen because it is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing from Plymouth to North America. The vessel will follow the same sailing route the Mayflower took.  

The new vessel will be a trimaran powered by renewable energy. It will operate as a research platform conducting scientific experiments during its voyage. MARS will feature several drones which performing a variety of experiments and serve as a test bed for new navigation software and alternative energy. The trimaran will also serve as a live educational resource to students who will be able to watch its progress. 

In a statement, Plymouth University said: “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. The autonomous drone technology that has been used so effectively in situations considered unsuitable for humans has not been harnessed by the shipping industry, which continues to steer the conservative course, its diesel engines pumping out carbon emissions and its manned crews at risk from piracy.”

Shuttleworth Design is still developing design concepts for the MARS project, and they will soon prepare scale for testing in Plymouth’s University Marine Building. Plymouth University’s hope is to establish itself as a major contributor to marine research and an innovator in shipping.  

Initial funding for the project has been provided by Plymouth University, MSubs, and the ProMare Foundation, and corporate and private sponsorship.