The Virtual Mayflower

On 6 September 1620 Puritans packed onboard the Mayflower and headed to the New World. Fleeing religious persecution, the voyage would be a new beginning for the 100 Pilgrim Fathers. After 66 days land was sighted and the ship dropped anchor in an area christened as New Plymouth.  The Pilgrim Fathers set up one of the first European colonies in North America and their story has endured. Nearly 400 years on, the Virtual Mayflower Project has been launched by the University of Birmingham, ready to commemorate the historic crossing in 2020.

The task isn’t the first of its kind. In 2014 the same university created a detailed virtual replica of the Anne, a 70-gun third-rate ship of the line that fought in the Battle of Beachy Head. It was revived using both virtual reality and augmented reality techniques.  The first virtual reconstructions of the Speedwell (a ship that also sailed to the New World) and the Mayflower can be seen here:


The Virtual Mayflower The Virtual Mayflower The Virtual Mayflower

The Mayflower project however will be a bigger and tougher assignment.  Collaborating closely with historians and educationalists in the UK and US, the ship is being recreated to exact measurements, from the contents of its cargo to the avatars that will represent members of the crew and passengers. It will be as realistic an interpretation as possible, right down to wood effects and the material used in the original sails. This will be achieved using 3D toolkits, such as 3ds Max and SketchUp, to graphics editing software like Adobe Photoshop. After the 3D Mayflower ship itself is complete, extra effects will be added using the Unity game engine, thus creating a full VR environment for the ship to exist in. This will include day-night cycles, weather changes and distinct ocean movements. It is also planned to use drones to accurately capture and map out structures such as Dartmouth Castle near to where the Pilgrim Fathers stopped off on their journey to the New World. Users can then explore a fully immersive 17th century environment in ultra high-definition. Additionally, the experience will be complemented by the use of motion and gesture capture systems to truly integrate with the virtual reality. Once completed, it will be possible for members of the public to experience the living conditions of the Pilgrims onboard this tiny vessel and for schoolchildren in the UK and US to share stories about this historic journey.  Using augmented reality technologies, it will even be possible to bring the virtual Mayflower back into harbour.  The Virtual Mayflower project promises to bring together an impressive range of state-of-the-art technologies that will replicate history accurately and will fulfil an educational as well as a recreational purpose.

A related high-tech project is also being planned to take place three years from now. Known as the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, this unmanned vessel will undertake the transatlantic crossing following the course taken by its 400-year-old predecessor. Using a combination of virtual and augmented reality technologies, members of the public and schoolchildren will be able to take part in the journey as it happens. To see the amazing virtual reality for yourself, check out the video below: (Credit: HIT Team, University of Birmingham)

To see the early results of these amazing virtual reality projects for yourself, check out the stunning images and videos developed by the University of Birmingham below:

The Virtual Mayflower The Virtual Mayflower

The Virtual Mayflower

The array of virtual and augumented reality on show is quite stunning


Discover more amazing science and technology features in the latest issue of How It Works. It’s available from all good retailers, or you can order it online from the ImagineShop. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of How It Works, make sure you subscribe today!