China building test site for unmanned ships in Guangdong Province

China is building a test site for unmanned ships in south China's Guangdong Province, according to a report from Chinese state media outlet, Xinhua.

The test site off the coast of Zhuhai will be jointly funded by the Zhuhai city government, the China Classification Society, Wuhan University of Technology, and Oceanalpha, an unmanned surface vessel company based in Zhuhai.

The first phase of the site will occupy 21.6 square kilometres. During the second phase the test area will be expanded by 750 square kilometers.

According to Xinhua, the site is designed to emulate, test and verify functions of unmanned ships, including route planning, tracking, berthing and departure.

Lu Xiaofeng, deputy mayor of Zhuhai, said that Zhuhai hopes to become a high-tech base for the development, test and certification of unmanned ships within three to five years.

The construction of the marine test site will include the construction of networks, communications, navigation, optical electronics, automatic mooring wharf and more to test scenarios such as autonomous obstacle avoidance, coordinated formation, remote driving, autonomous operations, patrol alerts, communication tests and so on.

Recently, a prototype unmanned surface ship capable of traveling long distances and conducting missions without any humans on board was transferred by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in the US. The Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) is designed to track quiet diesel electric submarines.

In September 2017, Rolls Royce unveiled plans for an autonomous, single role, naval vessel with a range of 3500 nautical miles. The vessel concept is capable of operating beyond the horizon for over 100 days, will displace 700 tonnes and reach speeds above 25 knots. The vessel is designed to perform a range of single role missions, including patrol & surveillance, mine detection or fleet screening. Rolls Royce has Intelligent Awareness System combining multiple sensors with Artificial Intelligence, to help commercial vessels operate more safely and efficiently.

In another autonomous shipping initiative, the Norwegian Maritime Administration, The Norwegian Coastal Administration, the Federation of Norwegian Industries and MARINTEK (now SINTEF Ocean) formed the Norwegian Forum for Autonomous Ships (NFAS) in 2016. Projects NSAF members are involved include the development of an autonomous battery-driven container vessel to shift transport from road to sea and an autonomous and unmanned passenger ferry. The Norwegian Maritime Authority and the Norwegian Coastal Administration also signed an agreement which allows for testing of autonomous ships in the Trondheim fjord in 2016.

Featured image: 罗布泊/ CC BY 3.0

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