China Unveiled The First AI-Operated Crewless Ship, An Unmanned Carrier Capable Of Unleashing Hundreds Of Drones

According to an article published in Business Insider, China launched the world’s first seaborne drone carrier capable of functioning on its own last week. More than 50 autonomous airborne, surface, and subsurface vehicles will be carried, launched, recovered, and coordinated by the 290-foot ship.

The vessel, Zhu Hai Yun, is being built in Guangzhou by the Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard, a subsidiary of China’s largest shipbuilding business, the China State Shipbuilding Corporation, and is scheduled to be completed in July 2021.

Although Beijing has officially designated it as a marine research vessel, some analysts believe it has the potential to be deployed as a military vessel.

According to the shipbuilder, CSSC Huangpu Wenchong Shipping Co., the autonomous ship, the Zhu Hai Yun, is around 290 feet long, 45 feet wide, and 20 feet deep and can carry dozens of air, sea, and underwater drones equipped with various observation equipment.

It is described as an “epoch-making” vessel and the “world’s first intelligent unmanned system mother ship.”

It is the first of its type, a self-contained autonomous platform capable of remote control and autonomous navigation in the open sea. The drone carrier will be a valuable instrument for the country’s maritime scientific study and monitoring.

The mothership of the intelligent unmanned system The seaborn drone carrier, weighing 2000 tonnes, can cruise at 13 knots (24 km/h) and has a peak speed of 18 knots (33 km/h). The ship may deploy its own boats, submarines, and planes, communicate with them, and carry out coordinated operations, such as task-oriented adaptive networking to obtain three-dimensional images of specified targets.

The Zhu Hai Yun has a large deck that can accommodate dozens of air, marine, and unmanned subsurface devices outfitted with various observation equipment. To acquire a three-dimensional picture of specified objectives, these devices may be deployed in batches in the target sea region and perform task-oriented adaptive networking.

China hopes that with the latest launch, artificial intelligence and unmanned operations will improve its marine surveillance capabilities at a lesser cost and more efficiently than human-crewed operations. After completing sea testing, the drone carrier will be delivered by the end of 2022.

On the other hand, China’s military may use the drone mothership to gather intelligence in the disputed South China Sea, over which numerous nations have rival territorial claims.

China has recently made increasingly maritime solid sovereignty claims and has increased its military presence.

According to the same Business Insider article, the vessel employs the world’s first artificial intelligence system, the Intelligent Mobile Ocean Stereo Observing System, built by the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory.

According to the builders, the ship can cruise at a maximum speed of 18 knots, or around 20 miles per hour.

In 2021, Chen Dake, the laboratory’s director, told the state-run Science and Technology Daily that the ship is a new “marine species” that will revolutionize ocean surveillance. China is currently the largest shipbuilder in the world, and it aspires to be a “maritime great power.”

Although the capabilities and applications of this vessel are unknown, military worldwide are increasingly concentrating on building drones and autonomous vehicles.

A Researcher also stated that China had committed significant money to numerous unmanned platforms, including drones and autonomous vehicles, to bolster the navy’s position.


China is working hard to avoid submarine mishaps with Zhu Hai Yun at its disposal. Because the drone carrier is equipped with various sensors, it may offer a more accurate view of the seabed’s topography, which might be helpful during a fight. In such a case, observing Zhu Hai Yun’s launch from a marine research standpoint would be insufficient, as it would fail to see the vessel’s suitability for military use. Such progress was achieved by China as it advanced its AI skills to construct autonomous surface vehicles for maritime security, managing sea routes, and protecting marine resources for itself.



Prathamesh Ingle is a Mechanical Engineer and works as a Data Analyst. He is also an AI practitioner and certified Data Scientist with an interest in applications of AI. He is enthusiastic about exploring new technologies and advancements with their real-life applications

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