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Fischer Panda UK to power the Mayflower’s unmanned Atlantic crossing

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) in sea trials earlier this year. Image courtesy of Tom Dickenson for ProMare / IBM. The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) in sea trials earlier this year. Image courtesy of Tom Dickenson for ProMare / IBM.

Fischer Panda UK’s electric drive system and generators will power the world’s first fully automated vessel, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS), when it sets sail on its historic maiden voyage across the Atlantic this June.

Propelling the 5-ton, 50ft trimaran during the 3,000 mile-crossing from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Fischer Panda UK equipment will play a key role in the success of the inspirational project to test and advance innovative AI and data-gathering technology which promises to transform ocean-related industries in the future.

The robot research vessel, developed by marine research organisation ProMare with IBM acting as lead technology and scientific partner for the project, was launched on 16th September last year and has undergone several months of sea trials.

With MAS now preparing to get underway in the coming days depending on the weather, Fischer Panda UK’s motors, batteries, diesel generators, and associated power and control electronics are among an array of sophisticated equipment onboard. Designed to provide a safe, flexible and cost-effective way of gathering data about the ocean, the sleek vessel also features an AI Captain and is fitted with precision inertial navigation, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) positioning, radar sensors, satellite communications, meteorologic instrumentation, cameras and radar to enable the quest for data and discovery on whale populations, sea levels, microplastics and other research topics.

Driven by the Fischer Panda hybrid-electric propulsion system which will be primarily charged by wind and solar energy, MAS is expected to make the crossing in approximately 20 days at speeds up to 10 knots – a huge leap from the original Mayflower’s 60 days at 2.5 knots over 400 years ago. The fully-electric propulsion system will give unlimited range in equatorial sunshine and breeze – although Fischer Panda diesel generators will offer backup should conditions be less ideal.

MAS is a collaborative initiative led by ProMare, a non-profit charity established to promote marine research and exploration throughout the world. The vessel is designed by Whiskerstay and MSubs, both companies with extensive experience developing manned and unmanned marine vehicles, while the Universities of Plymouth and Birmingham are also involved, respectively working on some of the research pods and virtual/augmented reality systems.

Brett Phaneuf, ProMare co-founder, said: “We wanted to buy an end-to-end hybrid drive that was fully integrated and tested by the manufacturer and we knew would work. We’ve used Fischer Panda in the past for our military work and found them to be very reliable.”

The equipment installed and commissioned by Fischer Panda UK’s engineering team comprises:

  • Two 48V DC generators – a 22kW Fischer Panda AGT 22000 and a 4kW Fischer Panda AGT 4000. Both generators are in ‘PVM’ format, with a dry exhaust. This removes the need for a raw water intake, a potential source of leakage or corrosion.
  • Two 48V Fischer Panda 20kW 600rpm Easybox shaft motors.
  • A Mastervolt Mass Combi 48/3500-50 Inverter and Charger, supported by a battery management system for control and monitoring.
  • A 38.4kWh battery bank consisting of eight of the new Mastervolt MLi Ultra 5500 Lithium Ion batteries, providing 800Ah at 48V.

Barry Fower, managing director at Fischer Panda UK, said: “This project will have huge implications for the maritime industry and we will be watching the Atlantic crossing avidly along with the rest of the world. We are seeing unmanned vessels play an increasing role in many different sectors, with interest in our systems for these applications continuing to grow. We are proud to see the reliable Fischer Panda equipment onboard Mayflower, alongside some of the most innovative systems and advanced AI technology.”

With no human captain or onboard crew, MAS has been designed as a platform which is suitable for many years into the future for deepening understanding of critical issues such as climate change, ocean plastic pollution and marine mammal conservation. In parallel, the development of marine autonomous systems promises to transform the shipping, oil & gas, telecommunications, security & defence, fishing & aquaculture industries.

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