China launches an autonomous mothership full of autonomous drones
China christened a remarkable new 290-foot (88-m) ship last week – the world's first semi-autonomous drone carrier. It'll carry, launch, recover and co-ordinate the actions of more than 50 other autonomous aerial, surface and underwater vehicles.
The Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard began construction on the Zhu Hai Yun last July in Guangzhou. According to the South China Morning Post, it's the first carrier of its kind, a self-contained autonomous platform that will roll out with everything necessary to perform a fully integrated operation, including drone aircraft, boats and submersibles.
China doesn't expect it to navigate busy seaports by itself, like the Japanese autonomous container ship Suzaku we wrote about last week. Instead, the Zhu Hai Yun will run on remote control until it's out in the open water, and then its self-driving systems will take over to execute whatever mission it's running.
It's kitted out with everything it needs to deploy its own boats, subs and aircraft, communicate with them, and run co-ordinated missions, including conducting "task-oriented adaptive networking to achieve three-dimensional views of specific targets," according to the shipbuilding company. The aerial drones can land back on its deck, and it stands ready to retrieve the boats and subs once they've made their rounds.
"The Intelligent, unmanned ship is a beautiful new 'marine species' that will bring revolutionary changes for ocean observation," said Professor Dake Chen of the Chinese Academy of Science's School of Oceanography.
While it's mainly pitched as an ocean research platform, the SCMP also reports that it has "military capability to intercept and expel invasive targets," a capability at the forefront of many autonomous marine projects, including the extraordinary spider-legged WAM-V boats we looked into on Friday.
Check out a short video below.