Robo-cop drone put through its paces in Kawau Bay

The Proteus craft can be accessed and piloted from anywhere in the world.

The Proteus will be able to deploy aerial drones and smaller sea craft.

An earlier two-metre version of the craft named Taniwha.

Intelligent autonomous drones may soon police the seas thanks to testing that will take place in Kawau Bay over the next few weeks.

Auckland robotics engineering firm X-craft has built a six-metre long sea drone that can think for itself, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI).

The drone can “see” its environment using LIDAR technology, which uses lasers to scan surroundings and build a 3D image.

Thanks to efficient solar panels that power the craft, the drone can spend months or even years at sea without returning to shore or receiving human instruction.

X-craft chief executive Philip Solaris says the new craft’s name is Proteus, but the engineering team have nicknamed it the “aircraft carrier”.

The intelligent seacraft will have a number of applications including conservation, rescue, scientific data collection and policing the seas for illegal fishing.

Fleets of cooperating drones will be able to track down illegal fishing boats, take photos, record positions and alert authorities.

The Proteus can also identify ships in distress and deliver inflatable life rafts to sinking passengers. If necessary, people could climb aboard the craft.

Philip says this will be particularly important in Pacific Island nations, where ferries with hundreds of people on board can go missing without anyone even knowing about it.

“The idea here is that the drone can patrol key ferry lanes and watch for boats in distress.

“It will be able to recognise a person floating in the ocean and differentiate it from a piece of floating drift wood. When it sees a head bobbing in the water, it will stop and assist.”

He says Proteus could also be first on the scene after a natural disaster, such as a cyclone, and provide aerial surveys of damage to guide search and rescue efforts.

Philip’s intelligent craft have already been put to use in tracking Maui dolphin and monitoring fishing boats in Niue.

He says Kawau Bay provides the ideal environment for perfecting the drone’s AI capabilities because it has a variety of conditions and small islands to navigate around.

To recreational boaties, it will appear as a purple light racing through the water.

Philip is asking boaties not to approach or mob the craft because it could interfere with its sensory equipment during a crucial stage of testing.

However, he is looking for locals to help by providing chase boats during tests. Those interested can email Philip at