Last year, it emerged that China was working on an underwater base that would be run by artificial intelligence and submersible robots.
Now New Scientist has dug up new details on the base from prototypes and scientific documents, and it sounds like the project will likely leave human oceanographers on the surface while underwater bots conduct the research — a bold approach that could teach scientists more about the uncharted depths of the ocean.
Several Chinese prototypes, according to New Scientist, feature robot submarines capable of going on exploratory missions before returning to underwater docking stations to recharge. The base itself will probably also conduct scientific work by gathering samples of microorganisms as they pass.
Because the base would be too deep for sunlight to reach, solar power wouldn’t be an option, so it’ll probably be powered by a cable connecting to the surface. An advantage of a permanent base, according to the magazine, is that its robot subs will be able to map how the ocean changes over time — collecting data about underwater ecosystems and geology over time.
The more practical goal of exploring new frontiers for undersea oil extraction and minerals might also be on the table, according to the report.
It’s not yet clear where China will build the underwater base, though New Scientist speculated that it could be in the Manila trench or the Okinawa trough — and scientists far from China are excited to see where the project goes.
“The ocean covers most of our planet, and what happens there affects us all,” Jon Copley, a professor of ocean exploration at the University of Southampton, told the magazine of the project. He added that “anywhere in deep water could be interesting for science.”