Mayflower Autonomous Ship Prepares to Sail the World, Guided by Silicon Sensing Systems

Artist's impression of the MAS 400 autonomous ship. Inset is the new DMU30 IMU, which is just 68.5mm x 61.5mm x 65.5mm.

February 20, 2018      

Four centuries after the voyage of the Mayflower, an autonomous vessel is about to undertake new historic missions. In 2020, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, or MAS 400, will cross the Atlantic, followed by circumnavigation of the globe.

Silicon Sensing Systems Ltd.‘s latest DMU30 inertial measurement unit (IMU) will provide highly accurate attitude data to the autopilot as the Mayflower Autonomous Ship travels the world. The rugged miniaturized device will provide critical ship motion data.

Maiden voyage of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship

The mission of the MAS 400 project is to build an autonomous vessel capable of conducting scientific research, with the endurance and reliability to operate remotely in all corners of the globe. The vessel’s maiden voyage will form part of the “Mayflower 400” celebrations in 2020, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the crossing of the Pilgrims in the original Mayflower.

The MAS 400 project is being conducted by MAS Ltd., a nonprofit including participation from Plymouth University, charitable foundation ProMare, and MSubs Ltd. The university is providing the technical talent through undergraduate research, and MSubs is providing the organizational management.

The unmanned vessel will sail from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Mass., in the U.S. Having completed the crossing, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship will then travel on around the globe.

Forward-looking sensors

“As a Plymouth [U.K.]-based operation, we are extremely proud to contribute our technology to this inspirational, forward-looking project,” said Steve Capers, general manager of Silicon Sensing Systems. “Data provided by our DMU30 will help ensure the operators of the MAS 400 vessel can be confident in her ability to navigate autonomously around the world.”

Silicon Sensing Systems is one half of a joint venture between UTC Aerospace Systems Ltd. and Sumitomo Precision Products. The gyroscope and inertial systems engineering development company was formed in 1999 and is a market leader in silicon, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS)-based navigation and stabilization technology.

Silicon Sensing’s DMU30 is the company’s latest high-performance, MEMS IMU. It is designed for use where there are exacting motion-sensing requirements, as with the MAS 400. DMU30 is a full 6 degree of freedom (DoF) IMU that uses the company’s own gyros and accelerometers to create a small, rugged, and cost-effective unit that offers the high levels of performance more typical of larger, heavier, and more costly fiber-optic gyro (FOG)-based devices.

“As the unmanned market develops, and with unmanned platforms, whether land, sea, or air, being typically smaller than their manned counterparts, we anticipate a need to maintain — and exceed — the performance of manned platforms, but in less space and with less available power,” Capers added. “This is where our DMU30 IMU comes into its own, matching the performance usually only delivered by FOG-based technology in a unit that consumes little power [and] is small, lightweight, and low cost.”

A DMU30 unit has already been delivered to MSubs Ltd. for use throughout the trials for the Mayflower Autonomous Ship. The units are already in full production at the Plymouth facility and are in use in various applications. DMU30 is also being evaluated for a number of subsea and survey applications, with initial results exceeding expectations.

Silicon Sensing will be at Stand A401 at Oceanology International from March 13 to 15, 2018, in London.