The WonderJourney-1A, or WJ-1A, which blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Inner Mongolia earlier this month, has an onboard intelligent processing unit known as the String Edge AI Platform.
“String serves as the satellite’s brain, allowing real-time observation and processing. Traditionally, data has to be sent back to a ground control centre for analysis and instructions. But WJ-1A can handle it on the fly,” Chen Junrui, a spokesman for the Hangzhou-based developer STAR.VISION, said.
“WJ-1A is China’s first satellite with artificial intelligence (AI) at its core, featuring a smart operating system, and it will soon be put into operation,” the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer Wang Chunhui told Zhejiang Daily.
The name WonderJourney is inspired by the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, who was the first to define a concept of the “universe”. The company said the choice of name reflected its hope that AI could explore the boundless universe.
Currently the satellite’s main task is system testing, and various intelligent applications will be run and validated, assessing their efficiency in orbit. These applications range from connections with future smart cars and drones to monitoring and evaluating environmental conditions such as forest fire locations, soil moisture and pest disease monitoring.
“WJ-1A is equipped with high-resolution cameras, near-infrared cameras and VR panoramic cameras, allowing for various image processing tasks. Through image semantic understanding, it can recognise forests and oceans. It is also capable of target identification, lossless compression, and data cleaning,” Chen said.
In practical terms, the company says the satellite can analyse an area of 10,000 sq km (3,860 square miles) and realise dynamic object tracking in just a few hours, while traditional satellites typically require about 180 days for similar tasks.
The satellite maintains communication with the ground and more functions are being uploaded. Chen indicates that, in a manner akin to science fiction, “String” aims to become an “AI assistant in space”. Users on the ground will be able to talk to it in the same way people can with AI programs such as ChatGPT.
The technology could also be used to help emergency responses. Real-time data processing could allow the satellite to instantly inform ground control of disasters such as landslides, road collapses, or areas affected by typhoons. It can also investigate crop planting areas, water pollution, and illegal logging.
At present the onboard intelligent processing unit has a processing speed of 80 trillion operations per second (TOPS) – less than the 144 TOPS found in a Tesla’s Full-Self Driving chip. Its computing ability may be limited by the power constraints found in satellites, but Wang said the company hoped it would rise to more than 100 TOPS by the end of the year.
Plans are in place to expand the WonderJourney constellation to 20 satellites by the end of 2024 in cooperation with the company’s partners, increasing coverage and communication efficiency, according to Chen.
According to scmp.com