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8 Questions with Ocean Engineer Don Scott

By Donald Scott posted Mon February 22, 2021 12:28 PM


Recently I sat down with Krista Summitt, IBM Public Cloud Community leader, to answer 8 questions about the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project.  
Below is the transcript of our interview:

KS: For those who don't know, what is the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project? 

With no human captain or onboard crew, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, or MAS, uses the power of AI and automation to traverse the ocean in its quest for data and discovery. The  MAS Project is a grass roots initiative led by marine research non-profit ProMare with support from IBM and a global consortium of partners.

KS: This is really exciting. So how are you using IBM AI technology on the ship? 

The ship’s AI Captain, powered by IBM AI, performs a similar role to a human captain. Assimilating data from a number of sources, it constantly assesses its route, status and mission, and makes decisions about what to do next in terms of navigation. Next, IBM machine learning and automation software ensure that decisions are safe and in-line with collision regulations. Specifically, once the AI Captain makes a decision, it then validates the decision using a rules-based automation system called the Operational Decision Manager.

KS: What about edge computing, weather data, and IBM Cloud?

DS: Sure, so we have cameras and computer vision systems on-board which scan the horizon for hazards. Streams of meteorological data from the The Weather Company reveal potentially dangerous storms. We have small, lightweight edge computing devices provide just enough local compute power for the ship to operate independently, even without connectivity or remote control. When a connection becomes available, the systems sync with the IBM cloud, enabling updates and data upload.

KS: I'm sure the community is wondering, is there a real-world application for this project? Why do you think IBM is supporting this project?

DS: Absolutely. This is at the very beginning of  whole new industry - automation in the shipping business,  and IBM wanst to be right in the heart of it. Autonomous vessels like MAS showcase the convergence of IBM technologies such as hybrid cloud, IOT, containerization, AI, rules-based logic, and edge of network or edge/distributed computing, all in one project. 

KS: What is your two-year vision for MAS?

DS: To help us increase our understanding of deploying intelligent edge devices in challenging environments – an active open platform for testing AI concepts and pushing the boundaries of autonomous technology.

KS: Why do you love MAS?

DS: MAS has been an incredibly collaborative venture. I have enjoyed every minute of the camaraderie, the intellectual rigour, overcoming challenges and working hard together towards a common goal. This is why I became an ocean engineer.

KS: What is your biggest fear about MAS?

DS: The ocean is an extremely difficult and challenging environment in which to work, especially for an unmanned vessel undertaking such a monumental task. The biggest fear is made up of all the little things that can go wrong. We plan for systems to fail, because we know they will in such harsh conditions. My fear is that they all go wrong at the wrong time, and for that, we can’t really plan.

KS: If you could put one object inside MAS for the transatlantic voyage, what would it be?

DS: A small rock sample collected from the deep ocean by my father. I would like to honour his legacy of international ocean research and scientific discovery, which is the ultimate purpose for MAS as well. He was a geology professor and when I was young, he was diving to the bottom of the ocean in deep sea submersibles. His stories of these incredible ocean adventures were my inspiration to pursue a lifelong career in the world of ocean science.

Want to learn more or chat with me in real-time? Join me live Tuesday February 23, 2021 at 1:00PM ET for

To the Edge with the Mayflower Autonomous Ship webcast, part of the IBM Cloud Champions Speaker Series.

If you have any questions, please comment below. I would love to hear from you.



The Mayflower Autonomous Ship is schedule to make a transatlantic voyage from Plymouth UK to Plymouth, Mass., USA in 2021 Learn more:
1 comment



Mon February 22, 2021 06:47 PM

Thanks @Donald Scott for your blog about MAS! I'm not going to miss your webcast tomorrow to discover more things about Edge with the Mayflower Autonomous Ship. Amazing project! Congratulations.​