China’s first giant-AI controlled research drone carrier officially entered service on Thursday, state media reported. The Zhuhaiyun research vessel can navigate autonomously in open water or be operated by remote control, according to a report by state broadcaster CCTV. It can carry and operate dozens of unmanned aerial, surface and underwater vehicles (UAVs, USVs and UUVs) simultaneously to monitor its surroundings and produce a data hub. The Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory, which owns and operates the vessel, conducted a sea trial on Thursday and tested the vessel’s autonomous navigation capabilities including the release and recovery of drones. “We have tested the boat in unmanned operation for 12 consecutive hours. It was proven to be able to avoid obstacles and plan its own path, and it has fully met our original design goals,” Chen Dake, the head of the laboratory and a member of the Chinese Academy of Science, told the broadcaster. This year, Zhuhaiyun will be used for a number of surveying takes, including marine mapping and observation, sea patrols and survey sampling. The ship’s home-developed AI system can use information from sensors and satellites to help it navigate”. Operators can also remotely monitor its operations and take control if needs be. Chinese scientists develop laser-powered drone to stay aloft ‘forever’ With a length of 88.5 metres, width of 14 metres and a displacement of 2,100 tonnes, Zhuhaiyun is larger than the Chinese navy’s Type 056 frigate, enabling it to carry a significant amount of equipment. Featuring a specially designed futuristic shape, Zhuhaiyun cruises at an average speed of 13 knots and it can go up to 18 knots when needed. The vessel’s power system, propulsion system, AI system and drone operation system are all made in China, CCTV reported, adding that this shows the country has achieved self-sufficiency in core technologies. “Not only will it provide an unprecedented tool for breaking through the frontiers of marine science, but it will also provide an intelligent and efficient tool for solving a large number of practical problems,” the report said. Could drone pairing be the future for China’s twin-seater J-20 fighter? Last June, China reported the successful maiden voyage of a much smaller 200-tonne USV that also features AI-controlled autonomous navigation technologies. Zhuhaiyun was built at the Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard owned by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation in Shanghai and was launched in May last year.