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Mayflower, the first unmanned solar-powered boat to cross the Atlantic
400 years after the first transatlantic crossing from Plymouth (UK) to Plymouth (US), the first unmanned, solar-powered boat to traverse the ocean will set sail in 2020.
Exactly 400 years after the first Mayflower made its historic voyage, another boat of its name, this time a high-tech solar and wind-powered one, will set sail across the Atlantic Ocean in 2020. The route will replicate the Plymouth-to-Plymouth journey made by the first Mayflower when it brought the Pilgrim Fathers from Plymouth in England to Cape Cod in the United States making a two-month trip that began on the 6th of September 1620. This time, however, there will be no Pilgrim Fathers to steer the boat but a small fleet of drones guiding it across the ocean.
According to a report in Popular Science, the boat, nicknamed MARS (Mayflower Autonomous Research Ship) is a joint venture between engineers from three British organisations: the University of Plymouth, MSubs, specialised in the production of unmanned craft including the world’s biggest autonomous submarine, and yacht designers Shuttleworth Design.
The boat will be a 32 metres long and 16 metres wide trimaran with 159 square metres of sail, giving it a maximum cruising speed of 20 knots (37 km/h). The hull design has been planned to reduce wind resistance to a minimum and keep the boat’s solar panels sufficiently above the water to reduce the impact of waves.
When the ship sets off in 2020 it will become the first boat to make a transatlantic voyage without a single person on board. “MARS will operate as a research platform, conducting numerous scientific experiments during the course of its voyage,” says Professor Kevin Jones, the University of Plymouth’s Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering. “It will be a test bed for new navigation software and alternative forms of power, incorporating huge advancements in solar, wave and sail technology.”
Today MARS is still in its planning phase and the images available are only a rendering of what it will look like. Construction is expected to take two-and-a-half years and testing another year. There is no precise estimate of the length of the ocean crossing because it could require only 7 to 10 days in good sea and wind conditions, all the way up to 7 to 10 months. The team is aiming to make the trip last as long as possible to collect a large amount of data, given there are no problems related to sustaining a crew. To date, unmanned craft have crossed the Atlantic both in the air and under the sea but never on its surface. This is an unprecedented technological challenge.
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