Digital twin-powered research ship ‘Dolphin 1’ completes maiden voyage

It is equipped with the country's first ship digital twin (SDT) system, which can record a ship's behavior and create a software clone to simulate scenarios that are either expensive or hardly feasible to achieve on a real object and in real time.

China’s first “digital twin” research ship “Dolphin 1” completed its delivery and maiden voyage on June 30, Chinese media reported today.

This vessel has made history as the first domestically built ship capable of multi-source information fusion, environmental sensing and reconstruction, as well as “digital twin” technologies to create representation of the ship and maritime environment it sails in.

On its first voyage, Dolphin 1 set off from Penglai, a coastal city in northern China’s Shandong Province, to Qingdao, also a port city in the same province.

The vessel conducted a series of tests throughout the journey, covering equipment performance review, autonomous operation and virtual representation of the real environment.

Dolphin 1 took three years to build under the auspices of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Ministry of Technology and the city government of Qingdao.

It is 25 m long, with a displacement of 100 tons.

Professor Xia Guihua at Harbin Engineering University oversaw the development of Dolphin 1. He led a group of researchers in overcoming several technical limitations such as multi-source information fusion and collaborative exploration technologies.

Therefore, signals generated during a voyage won’t interfere with each other.

Dolphin 1 provides ships with 3D representations of changing environments at sea under all weather conditions. This allows boats to navigate rain, fog and darkness in a safe manner.

Another strength of Dolphin 1 is its high level of intelligence that makes it possible for the vessel to be teleoperated.

It is equipped with the country’s first ship digital twin (SDT) system, which can record a ship’s behavior and create a software clone to simulate scenarios that are either expensive or hardly feasible to achieve on a real object and in real time.

Under the SDT system, a ship operator can control the ship in Qingdao 500 km away or from a smart vessel control center over 1,000 km away, Chinese media reported.

Dolphin 1 also comes with a ship health management platform to analyze the conditions of the vessel’s propulsion and navigation systems, Chinese media reported.

“We want to build a floating lab on the sea, to offer powerful support to aid the DST capabilities of schools and Chinese smart ships, as well as solve the last-mile problem of application,” said Xia, the professor behind the Dolphin 1 project.

He added that the self-piloting vessel also addressed the issue of one-stop design reliability covering ship hull, power, electricity, propulsion, navigation, control and ship-shore link.

Dolphin 1 can withstand choppy waves or even tidal waves while carrying out its tasks, thanks to a self-developed dynamic positioning system from Harbin Engineering University.

With a BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, a fiber optical communication system and an ultra-short baseline, the ship also offers underwater, above-the-water and mid-air positioning services to remotely operated drones (ROV).

Avatar photo
Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at

Articles: 662