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Gov’t plans 562 billion won for unmanned vehicle R&D

Dec 08,2017
The Korean government plans to pour a total of 562 billion won ($514 million) into research and development for the technologies used in unmanned transport including self-driving cars, drones and driverless ships, in an attempt to expand the country’s presence in the fast-growing market.

According to the 10-year R&D plan for unmanned vehicles announced by the Ministry of Science and ICT on Thursday, the government will focus on developing six key technologies - including sensors, telecommunications and artificial intelligence - necessary for unmanned transport by land, sea or air. The government aims to have Korea capture a 10 percent share of the world’s unmanned vehicle market by 2030 and create 92,000 new jobs in the process.

Starting with a 12 billion won investment in R&D next year, the Science Ministry plans to inject another 550 billion won over the next 10 years, although the measure still needs to be approved by the National Assembly.

The ministry said the local unmanned transport market is led mostly by small enterprises or start-ups that account for only about 2.7 percent of the global market, stressing that Korea needs to ramp up its technology and competence in the sector for long-term growth.

According to the ministry, Korean technology in the unmanned vehicle industry is only about 60 percent as advanced as the industry’s leading countries. Korean firms are dependent on foreign manufacturers for core parts like the sensors and networking modules necessary to control and power unmanned vehicles. For instance, while sensor technology allows unmanned vehicles to recognize their surroundings and avoid bumping into obstacles, the ministry judged Korea’s technology level to be only 66.5 percent as advanced as industry leaders, and said local firms need roughly 3.7 years of R&D to catch up.

The government prioritized developing upgraded sensors in its decade long road map. It will focus on supporting firms and research institutes to come up with sensors that can help vehicles recognize their position even in basements or underwater, where signals from global positioning systems (GPS) are weak. Light detection and ranging sensors, or lidar, will also be upgraded to make them smaller and more energy-efficient.

The ministry is also focusing on AI, which is vital for vehicles to automatically make the best driving decisions based on road conditions. The ultimate goal is to upgrade the AI platform so it can self-diagnose vehicle component malfunctions and communicate with multiple unmanned vehicles.

By 2030, delivery drones, unmanned submarines for deep-sea operations and swarms of drones for agriculture will be developed, according to the road map.

“The development of unmanned transport will be the first achievement of [the Moon Jae-in administration’s so-called] innovation-led growth policy schemes,” said Lee Jin-gyu, the first vice minister of the Science Ministry. “We will strive to provide core technologies to industry, academia, research institutes and government needs.”

According to data from market researcher Teal Group, the global unmanned vehicle market will grow from $32.6 billion in 2016 to $264.2 billion by 2030, growing at an average of 16 percent every year.


BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]