BY APB Staff on 14 Jun 2022

Zhu Hai Yun can be controlled remotely or navigate autonomously in open water

Zhu Hai Yun will be delivered later this year. Images: Southern Ocean Laboratory

China has launched a drone ‘mothership’ with a one-of-a-kind artificial intelligence system billed as a world first.

Zhu Hai Yun is 88m long, 14m wide and 6m deep. The vessel carries dozens of autonomous drones, ships and submersibles that can be used to conduct marine research and observation. It can be controlled remotely or navigate autonomously in open water, as well as form a network to observe targets and play a role in maintaining maritime security.

Local outlets have stated the ship will be able to assist in marine disaster prevention, monitor the marine environment in real-time with 3D data, and provide offshore wind farm maintenance. Other reports speculate that the Zhu Hai Yun may also have military applications and will play a role in maritime security. 

Zhu Hai Yun is owned by the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Zhuhai), also known as the “Southern Ocean Laboratory” of Sun Yat-sen University. 

The vessel’s world-first AI system is called the Intelligent Mobile Ocean Stereo Observing System (IMOSOS). 

“The intelligent, unmanned ship is a beautiful, new ‘marine species’ that will bring revolutionary changes for ocean observation,” Chen Dake, director of the Southern Ocean Laboratory, told Science and Technology Daily last year.

Zhu Hai Yun is expected to reach speeds of up to 18 knots and is on track to be delivered by the end of the year, according to China Daily. It is currently undergoing outfitting alongside the pier.

The company that built the vessel, CSSC Huangpu Wenchong Shipping Co, says the carrier can be deployed in a target sea area and carry out “three-dimensional dynamic observations” using its swarm of autonomous drones, ships and submersibles.

“For the unmanned surface vehicles, there are diesel-powered, wave-powered and solar-powered ones. For underwater, there are smart profile buoys, which can make observations from surface to underwater, and also the underwater [glider],” Zhang Yunfei, founder and president of Zhuhai Yunzhou Intelligence Technology, told media in 2021.