Robot boats propel one of China’s hottest startups

  • TECH
  • Friday, 01 Jun 2018

An Oceanalpha Co. SE40 unmanned surface vessel manoeuvres through a pond outside the company's offices during testing in Zhuhai, China, on Thursday, May 18, 2018. Oceanalpha, one of a handful of companies around the globe specializing in ocean-going drones that operate on the surface, has fired the interest of some of China's biggest venture capitalists. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

In the vast, freezing Ross Sea, China’s “Snow Dragon” icebreaker needed to find a safe anchorage before it could begin its mission to set up China’s fifth Antarctic research station. The solution was to deploy one of Zhang Yunfei’s freezer-tested boat drones to map the ocean floor.

For Zhang, it was the latest in a string of government contracts – from surveying Tibetan lakes to testing river pollution – that have helped him turn a university project into China’s largest unmanned surface vessel company, one that has fired the interest of some of China’s biggest venture capitalists. In a pending round of funding, Oceanalpha Co Ltd may be valued at US$780mil (RM3.10bil) – about 40 times revenue – despite never having turned a profit.

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