Ahoy, Captain Watson, Will We Make It This Time, Arrrghh

June 10, 2022

Not one to let repeated failures get in its way, marine research non-profit ProMare has once again sent its Mayflower Autonomous Ship across the open ocean with Watson at the helm. The Register reports, “IBM-Powered Mayflower Robo-Ship Once Again Tries to Cross Atlantic.” When the project first embarked in 2020, we wondered whether it might fall victim to hackers. As it turns out, that attempt was foiled by a more basic issue—a mechanical fault with its generator. As advanced as it is, Watson cannot yet wield a physical wrench. A minor electrical glitch halted the more recent crossing attempt, launched this past April 28, two weeks in. That issue was quickly fixed and the ship set on its way once again. Reporter Katyanna Quach writes:

“‘As of 0900 BST May 20, MAS was back underway with its transatlantic crossing,’ the IBM spokesperson said. It is aiming to complete the remaining 2,225-mile voyage in 16 days. Now, nearly a week into resuming its journey, the ship has made it to its furthest distance yet, a little over halfway to America.”

Well, that was a couple weeks ago. As of this writing, the MAS has been diverted to Nova Scotia to address yet another electrical issue. This team is nothing if not persistent. Quach goes on to give us a few details about the tech involved:

“The Mayflower’s AI software runs on four computers containing Intel processors, six nVidia Jetson AGX Xavier GPUs, two nVidia Jetson Xavier NX boards, and a few other chips. Live camera footage streaming from a webcam onboard the ship is back up online for viewers to follow. ‘We’ve made lots of improvements – the computer vision system has been significantly improved through at-sea testing, and similarly the data fusion algorithms are functioning better and better with every deployment and have greatly improved over the course of the past year,’ Brett Phaneuf, co-director of the Mayflower project … told The Register in a statement. ‘We’ve also improved many mechanical systems, particularly the air intake and exhaust for the generator on the hybrid drive line – and we’ve reduced power consumption significantly as well, over the past year, through applied research, testing and trials, and we’ve made the boat more robust in general.’”

Not quite robust enough, it seems. Not yet. It looks like ProMare is determined to press Watson past its limits. Will the persistent little ship finally make it to its destination? Curious readers can follow MAS’ progress here.

Cynthia Murrell, June 10, 2022

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