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NZ company invents unmanned sea vessel to catch illegal fishing boats, drug traffickers in Pacific

A New Zealand company has invented an unmanned sea vessel equipped with artificial intelligence to monitor and catch illegal fishing boats and drug traffickers who are rampant in the Pacific.

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The vessel uses artificial intelligence to go about its tasks. Source: 1 NEWS

The Proteus, created by X-craft, can theoretically travel unlimited kilometres at sea for months at a time using solar power and wind turbine energy. 

Its on-board artificial intelligence can make decisions on what to do in different situations and work out what it is interacting with. 

It can also launch search and rescue operations by itself and deploy its own liferaft. It can record evidence using sonar, infrared optical and standard video.

It's all monitored by a command centre which can be based anywhere in the world.

It’s these features and its ability to spend extended periods at sea that makes CEO Philip Solaris hopeful the technology can make an impact on illegal fishing and drug trafficking in the Pacific.

“There is a war going around around illegal fishing. People are dying - it's a very serious thing,” Mr Solaris said.

“And that is going to get worse and I think we need the tools to deal with that.”

He said the artificial intelligence can make decisions whether The Proteus would “track that vessel, to follow that vessel, to carry out an air reconnaissance of that vessel - so this boat has its own drone on-board.”

He said the sensors on-board could bring data together "that could be admissible in court”.

In the past decade, 10 Pacific fisheries observers have died at sea. 

So far, trials have been successful and several organisations are interested in The Proteus.

Climate agency NIWA said they hoped to use this kind of craft to gather data on climate change.

Matt Pinkerton, principal scientist at NIWA, said sending manned research trips was expensive.

“The idea of these autonomous boats is we can cover huge areas over more of the time for less money.”

But X-craft wants to do more trials in the Pacific first.

“It's not blue sky mining. It's real and it's happening now,” Mr Solaris said.