Workers of Zoneco Group Co Ltd sort and pack sea cucumbers in Dalian, Liaoning province. NANGONG AOQING / FOR CHINA DAILY
A leading Chinese fishery company and the Dalian University of Technology have established a laboratory to develop underwater robots, which are expected to take the place of divers to catch precious seafood.
The robots will also likely perform seabed monitoring tasks at fishing grounds in Dalian, Liaoning province.
"We're dedicated to developing robots that can work as flexibly and efficiently as experienced divers in the complicated circumstances under the sea," said Wu Hougang, president of Zoneco Group Co Ltd, which is listed on the Shenzhen bourse.
The company employs dozens of divers to pick up precious seafood such as trepang (a type of rare sea cucumber), sea urchins and abalone from the sea floor about 20 to 30 meters from the surface. They work about three to four hours per day.
"The robots will help reduce risks and costs," said Wu.
According to the agreement between the two parties, the lab will carry out innovation of underwater robots focusing on tasks such as environmental perception, underwater observation and ecological monitoring.
The company and the university will also work together to solve technological problems, develop products, and promote the application of technological results.
The lab is expected to be a model for the integration of technology with finance, as well as the collaborative research and development between research institutions and big companies.
Zoneco will provide 300,000 yuan ($43,480) annually to the lab.
The National Natural Science Foundation of China will support the construction of the lab, said Deng Fang, a project director with the foundation.
"Currently, industrial robots and aerial robots are enjoying rapid development in China while the research and development of underwater robots is relatively slow," said Deng.
Some other universities and research institutes, including Peking University, Harbin Engineering University and Beijing-based Beihang University, will provide technical support to the lab.
Guo Dongming, president of the Dalian University of Technology, said the cooperation will promote industrial upgrading through new technology, make progress in the areas of underwater robots and maritime information, and help boost the maritime economy in China.