Korean government invests $134 million in autonomous vessel development

The Korean government has announced plans to allocate KRW163 billion (approx. US$134 million) to a national task force spearheading the development of autonomous ship technologies, with the goal of taking a 50% share of the global market for such vessels by the end of the decade.

The six-year project will involve the construction of vessels complying with ‘Degree Three’ of the four degrees of autonomy identified by IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee during its regulatory scoping exercise on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS).

Degree Three describes a vessel that does not require crew on board and is controlled from a remote location, though Korea notes that seafarers may be required on board for regulatory purposes during early stage development (which would be Degree Two-level autonomy). Degree Four is a fully autonomous and unmanned ship that is able to make decisions and determine courses of action by itself.

The Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries will jointly create the task force to run the project, which will be based at the Korea Research Institute of Ships & Ocean Engineering in Daejeon.

The new team will be asked to develop the core technologies required for autonomous ships and create a foundation for early commercialisation of new systems through live demonstrations of their capabilities by the end of 2025.

The goal is to replace activities that currently involve crew decision making with autonomous systems, integrating artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, Big Data and sensors. The Korean government estimates that a reduction of up to 22% in ship operating costs could be achieved through fuel savings from better routing and optimised maintenance after deploying these systems.

The task force’s work will centre around development in four focus areas: creating an intelligent navigation system; building automated decision systems; promoting international standardisation of technologies; and constructing a performance demonstration centre.

The performance demonstration centre will be built in the port city of Ulsan and is eventually expected to host a testing programme involving a 25-metre ship and a mid-sized merchant vessel that can operate autonomously.

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Rob O'Dwyer

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