Photo of the Chinese 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 from South China Morning Post. The outlet cited the state-run Everyday science and technology.
A new “marine species”
“The intelligent, unmanned vessel is a beautiful and new ‘marine species’ that will bring revolutionary changes for ocean observation,” said Chen Dake, director of the laboratory responsible for the vessel, as quoted by the newspaper. Everyday science and technology in 2021 when the construction of the ship has started.
The news comes as autonomous vehicles are starting to make headlines around the world. There are self-driving cars, self-driving drones, and even self-driving robots.
Autonomous capabilities aim to improve manned options by providing safer, cheaper and easier operations. Whether they can really achieve this is still a matter of debate and the answers will come as these autonomous ships are tested and used around the world.
With this latest vessel, China hopes that artificial intelligence and unmanned systems could improve its maritime surveillance capability at lower cost and with higher efficiency than manned operations. The nation is known for using unmanned equipment systems in areas such as maritime rescue and marine environmental monitoring. This ship is therefore the next step in a long evolution of the use of autonomous ships.
This particular unmanned vessel called Zhu Hai Yun will be used to conduct marine scientific research and observation. The vessel is 290 feet long, 46 feet wide and 20 feet deep (88.5 meters long, 14 meters wide and 6.1 meters deep) and has an expected displacement of 2,000 tons. It can travel at speeds of 13 knots, with a top speed of 18 knots.
The ship was built by Guangzhou of Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard, a subsidiary of China’s largest shipbuilding company, the China State Shipbuilding Corporation. It is expected to complete sea trials by the end of this year to be delivered to the nation for on-time operations.
Developed by China in China
Zhu Hai Yun is said to have the ability to carry dozens of unmanned vehicles, including drones, unmanned ships, and submersibles that can be neatly put together to observe targets. It also has the notable quality of having been produced locally with its power systems, propulsion systems, intelligence systems and investigative operations support systems all being developed by China in China.
The ship is intended to inspire other nations to design similar autonomous ships, but for now it remains the world’s first. The question, however, is whether the ship can be used for military purposes?
With any new technology there is always the fear that it could be used in war and China is a country known for its military might. Could this ship be used for more than research? Maybe for monitoring? Only time will tell.