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China releases video of 56-boat drone swarm near Hong Kong

Chinese state media published video of a swarm of 56 unmanned boats coordinating a set of maneuvers near the Wanshan islands south of Hong Kong.

The brief video published by Global Times on Thursday, May 31 shows the vessels avoiding “obstacles” and maneuvering into various shapes and patterns without hitting one another. It ends with the swarm recreating the shape of an aircraft carrier while a larger – but also unmanned – boat passes through them, recreating a fighter jet taking off.

The manufacturer of the seaborne drones is not named, but the boat featured at the end of the video appears to be the L30 drone developed by Yunzhou-Tech, a Zhuhai-based company that specializes in artificial intelligence and unmanned vehicles. The smaller drones coordinating earlier in the video appear to be variants of other drones the company advertises on its website.

Yunzhou-Tech revealed an armed unmanned boat in July 2017.

Along with Zhuhai’s municipal government and the Wuhan University of Technology, Yunzhou-Tech opened the Wanshan Marine Test Field in February. The 771 square kilometre (225 square nautical mile) zone allows for the testing of autonomous maritime technology and is claimed to be the largest testing facility of its kind in the world.

Also in February, China celebrated the opening of its Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge by holding the largest cooperative unmanned boat maneuver in history using 81 boats. Yunzhou-Tech also provided the logistics and drones for that event, part of the annual Spring Festival Gala.

Harbin Engineering University and Shenzhen HiSiBi Boats Company in December revealed what state media claimed was the fastest unmanned waterborne surface vehicle, the Tianxing-1. The 12.2-metre electric-gasoline hybrid has a top speed of over 50 knots (93 km/h).

China, a notable developer of drone technologies, has especially wowed event-goers and tourists with its airborne drone swarm demonstrations, and the Guinness World Record for most UAVs airborne simultaneously was broken on April 29, when 1,374 drones hovered above an ancient city wall in Xi’an, Shaanxi province.

Chinese state media does not mention military uses for its drone swarms.

China also produces and sells the he Wing Loong II armed unmanned aerial system which is similar to the U.S.-produced Predator, along with other models. The Wing Loong II was recently sold to Uzbekistan, but other international customers reportedly include the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kazakhstan.

China is not the only country looking at drone swarm technologies. The United States conducted a high-profile test of a swarm of more than 100 Perdix mini-UAVs last January, and in April 2017 demonstrated drone ‘squads’ designed for amphibious assaults. The U.S. military is also developing the LOCUST system, which can shoot a swarm of UAVs to overwhelm an adversary.

Meanwhile, the first drone boat to deliver cargo without a crew looks set to be the YARA Birkeland, developed by Norwegian companies YARA and Kongsberg. The vessel, claimed to be the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship producing zero emissions, is set to undertake its first sea trial later this year.

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