Four centuries to the day since the Mayflower sailed out of the English port of Plymouth, carrying Puritan settlers to a new life in America, a very different version of the Mayflower was launched on Wednesday.
“This is a moment when our past meets our future. And it’s a very proud moment,” said US Ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson before the launch.
He was joined by the Dutch ambassador to the UK, Karel van Oosterom, who said the launch of the original Mayflower created a relationship between the Netherlands, the UK, and the US that was founded on freedom of belief and shared values.
Unlike its wooden predecessor, the new vessel is a sleek, high-tech trimaran powered by the sun and steered by artificial intelligence.
The Mayflower Autonomous Ship is set to follow in its forebearer’s wake by crossing the Atlantic from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, but for the purpose of a marine research trip instead of founding a colony – and without people aboard.
The ship’s creators, marine research organization ProMare and computing giant IBM, hope the autonomous Mayflower will be the first in a new generation of crewless high-tech vessels that can explore parts of oceans too difficult or dangerous for people to reach.
The ship’s launch is part of 400th anniversary commemorations involving the British, Americans, Dutch and the Wampanoag people, who are native to what is now New England.
In 1620, the Wampanoag helped the exhausted English settlers from the Mayflower survive their first winter. But soon colonial expansion, conflict and new diseases were having a devastating impact on North America’s indigenous peoples.
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