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Gov’t dreams of drones, self-driving cars and blockchain

Jan 25,2018
The government is ramping up its push for technological development, laying out policies on Wednesday for the wider use of drones in public services, commercialization of self-driving vehicles and nationwide establishment of a 5G network.

It will also support the application of blockchain technology, currently most associated with cryptocurrencies, in other industries.

The goals were outlined in a so-called “innovative growth” report jointly released by six government departments: the Ministry of Strategy and Finance; Ministry of Science and ICT; Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy; Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport; Financial Services Commission; and Office for Government Policy Coordination.

The plan includes deploying 3,700 drones over the next five years to perform services like delivering mail, surveying land, inspecting buildings and disinfecting farms with bird flu. Police and firefighters also hope to use drones in their work. The government currently has 180 drones performing public services.

In self-driving cars, the government is set to begin service next month on a 5-kilometer (3-mile) autonomous bus route between Pangyo Station in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, and Pangyo Techno Valley, an industrial complex housing some of Korea’s biggest tech companies. At the PyeongChang Winter Olympics next month, nine vehicles will be shuttling athletes and visitors along 7 kilometers all on their own.

By December, the government hopes to complete K-City, a 320,000-square-meter (79-acre) site for testing self-driving cars in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi. The government broke ground on the site last August and opened part of it in November.

The goal is to bring Korea’s autonomous driving technology to level 3, the so-called “eyes off” stage on SAE International’s scale in which drivers can safely turn their attention away from the road and vehicles can handle certain emergency situations like sudden braking, by the year 2020.

Korea’s technology is currently at level 2, the “hands off” stage, where a vehicle can largely operate on its own but a driver still has to respond in case of emergency. At levels 4 and 5, a vehicle can fully operate without the attention of a human driver.

In order to achieve level-3 technology, the government plans to collect research about artificial intelligence and share it with the private sector through a data center.

In wireless networking, the government hopes to commercialize 5G by March next year after testing the service at the Winter Olympics.

On blockchain, a technology that allows for the creation of secure digital ledgers, the government will invest 10 billion won ($9.4 million) toward development of the technology and 4.2 billion won on trial runs of real-world applications of blockchain.

“While related government departments are closely monitoring the side effects of cryptocurrencies, [we] will work on encouraging blockchain as a new future industry,” said Ma Chang-hwan, deputy minister for planning and coordination at the Ministry of Science and ICT.

To encourage investment in fintech, the Financial Services Commission plans to start distributing 2 trillion won in loans for start-ups in the industry next year.

Another 10 trillion won fund will invest in high-potential start-ups, and a 300 billion won fund will support companies listed on the Kosdaq, the Korean market’s tech-heavy index.

The Financial Services Commission added it would come up with “action plans” next month to boost the fintech industry and change regulations that have prevented some companies from entering the market by March.

For its part, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy is allocating 919.4 billion won to the development of five new industries. The money makes up roughly 30 percent of the government’s research and development budget.

The Moon Jae-in administration’s policy drive is based on growing concern that various regulations have been limiting the expansion and utilization of new technologies in Korea and will eventually limit the country’s economic growth in the long run.

Case in point, autonomous driving technology in other advanced economies, including Europe and the United States, have already reached a level where vehicles can operate on highways. In drones, Korea lags behind countries like China.

At a Blue House meeting earlier this week, President Moon raised the need to abolish regulations that prevent the development of new technologies and related businesses.


BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]