The Virtual Mayflower and the Drone

The Telegraph in the UK is reporting on two notionally related projects associated with the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to North America. The first is a virtual reality project led by the Human Interface Technologies Team, at the University of Birmingham which is aiming to recreate the Mayflower of 1620, plank by plank and will allow modern visitors to walk around the old ship while wearing a virtual reality headset.  It sounds like great fun and could be a great way to learn about the ship and the history directly.

The second project, I am not so sure about. It is described as follows: “a new futuristic version of the Mayflower, which is fully autonomous, is being built and will become the first unmanned vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 2020.” From the graphic, it appears to be a sail and solar powered trimaran drone.

Two immediate issues come to mind. The first is that the sole purpose of the original Mayflower on its famous voyage was to carry people. Suggesting that an unmanned drone is somehow similar or related in any way is bizarre. It sounds like an example of trying to hang questionable and related technology on an historical event for the publicity.

The second issue is the claim that the drone will be “will become the first unmanned vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean.”  While this hazard to navigation may, if it succeeds, be the first unmanned sail and solar powered trimaran drone to cross the Atlantic, it is not the “first unmanned vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean.” A Slocum Glider from Rutgers University successfully crossed the Atlantic in 2009.  Unlike the 2020 project which will travel unmanned on the surface, the Slocum Glider traveled for 221 days underwater, out of harm’s way. Yes, the 2009 Slocum Glider is the same or quite similar to the US Navy drone recently taken and returned by the Chinese.    

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