China’s world-first AI-powered drone carrier is being hailed as a new ‘marine species’

Zhu Hai Yun will be used to carry out marine scientific research and observation.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Photo of China national flag with modern skyscrapers in the background.Sky_Blue/iStock

On Wednesday, China launched the world's first autonomous drone carrier and it is being hailed as a new "marine species," according to a report by the South China Morning Post. The outlet quoted the state-run Science and Technology Daily.

A new "marine species"

“The intelligent, unmanned ship is a beautiful, new ‘marine species’ that will bring revolutionary changes for ocean observation,” Chen Dake, director of the laboratory responsible for the ship, was quoted as saying by the Science and Technology Daily back in 2021 when construction of the vessel began.

The news comes about as autonomous vehicles are beginning to make headlines around the world. There are autonomous cars, autonomous drones, and even autonomous robots.

Autonomous capabilities aim to enhance manned options by providing safer, cheaper, and easier operations. Whether they can really achieve that is still a topic to be debated and answers will come as these autonomous vessels are further tested and put to use around the world. 

With this latest ship, China is hoping that artificial intelligence and unmanned systems could enhance its marine supervision capacity at a lower cost and with higher efficiency than manned operations. The nation has been known to use unmanned equipment systems in areas such as maritime rescue and marine environment monitoring so this ship is the next step in a long evolution of using autonomous vessels.

This particular unmanned ship called the Zhu Hai Yun will be used to carry out marine scientific research and observation. The ship is 290 feet long, 46 feet wide, and 20 feet deep (88.5 meters long, 14 meters wide, and 6.1 meters deep ) and boasts a designed displacement of 2,000 tonnes. It can travel at speeds of 13 knots, with a maximum speed of 18 knots.

The ship was built by Guangzhou of the Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard, a subsidiary of China’s largest shipbuilding company the China State Shipbuilding Corporation. It is expected to complete sea trials by end of this year in order to be delivered to the nation for operations on time.

Developed by China in China

Zhu Hai Yun is reported to have the capacity to carry dozens of unmanned vehicles, including drones, unmanned ships, and submersibles that can be joined together carefully to observe targets. It also has the notable quality of having been produced locally with its power systems, propulsion systems, intelligence systems, and survey operation support systems all developed by China in China.

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The vessel is bound to inspire other nations to engineer similar autonomous ships but for now, it remains the world's first. The question that surfaces however is whether the ship can be used for military purposes?

With any new technology, there is always the fear that it may be used in warfare and China is a country known for its military might. Could this ship be used for more than research? Perhaps for surveillance? Only time will tell. 

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