The U.S. ambassador to Britain officially launched a ship named Mayflower on Wednesday, marking 400 years after a wooden vessel with the same name sailed from an English port and landed at modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Unlike the merchant ship that carried European settlers across the Atlantic in 1620, Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson’s Mayflower has no crew and is steered by artificial intelligence.
The Mayflower Autonomous Ship is intended to be the first in a new generation of artificially crewed vessels that can explore parts of oceans too dangerous or difficult for humans to reach. It will work with scientists to help better understand climate change, micro-plastic pollution and marine mammal conservation.
According to The Associated Press, the 50-foot trimaran will undergo six months of sea trials and short trips before heading out on its main voyage
The high-tech ship was developed jointly by U.K.-based marine research organization ProMare and U.S. tech giant IBM.
At a ceremony attended by Dutch Ambassador Karel van Oosterom and Royal Navy Adm. Tony Radakin, Johnson said the venture showed that “the pioneering spirit of the Mayflower really lives on.”
The new Mayflower will travel a similar route to that of its predecessor from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts.
The coronavirus pandemic has delayed its trip until the spring of 2021, and additional commemorations were disrupted, too.
As many of the Pilgrims who traveled on the Mayflower had fled England for Holland prior to their voyage, the anniversary plans involve British, American and Dutch institutions, as well as the Wampanoag people, who were the native inhabitants of what is now New England.
Wampanoag stories have been marginalized on past Mayflower anniversaries, but now play a large role in events.