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If the world hasn’t gotten strange enough, China just christened a 290-ft autonomous mothership carrying 50 drones of various types. More formally known as Zhu Hai Yun, the mothership is responsible for carrying, launching, and coordinating this fleet of 50 aerial and nautical drones. If this doesn’t feel like a step toward Skynet, I’m not sure what does.

Autonomous Mothership used to launch and control a fleet of drones
Zhu Hai Yun | CSSC Huangpu Wenching Shipbuilding Company Limited

What is this massive ship for? 

“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. 

This massive futuristic ship is stacked to the gills with drones all at the ready for deployment. Autonomous boats, places, and subs make up the roster. These crafts not only communicate with the mothership, but they can also coordinate with each other to handle joint missions. The company also says it can complete “task-oriented adaptive networking to achieve three-dimensional views of specific targets.” 

The first of its kind

New Atlas reports that construction on the Zhu Hai Yun began last July and was finally christened. Despite its creepiness, this ship is quite an accomplishment. 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.” 

Like all other autonomous vehicles, the autonomous ship is only useful for performing tasks, not navigating busy areas like seaports. For this reason, the massive ship will be piloted remotely by a human until it reaches open water. Once at sea, the ship is meant to handle its missions completely autonomously. 

Is the Chinese military using this technology? 

Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) standing on a ship
A Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) vessel | ALEX HOFFORD/AFP via Getty Images

China has been hard at work on autonomous technology for years. The military is one of the largest forces driving this work. Over the past few years, China’s military has experimented with and even implemented some of these crafts. 

According to USNI News, the Chinese military took over an old tourist resort on the Northern coast of China. The pier near Dalian is where China is testing its large uncrewed surface vessels (USVs). Satellite photos provided to USNI News by Maxar and an analysis of open-source intelligence, confirm this.  

Despite the scientific nature of the Zhu Hai Yun, many feel a palpable air of malice given what the ship represents. Knowing that the military is hard at work on this previously secretive resort naval base, this ship might be a way to slowly test this tech in open water. 

In an increasingly technological and unstable world, we have to keep an eye on how quickly we grow our power. For now, all we can hope is that the Zhu Hai Yun presents the world with new oceanic research and nothing else.


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