Korea eyes drones, self-driving cars

The South Korean government plans to unveil a new five-year plan next year with aims to nurture the nascent industries for unmanned aircraft and vehicles as its next growth engines.

The Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning on Friday announced the plan during a meeting of related government offices and research organisations, with President Park Geun-hye in attendance.

Under the plan, the government aims to create a 15 trillion won (S$18.1 billion) market with 650 companies by 2025, claiming 10 per cent of the global market share, the ministry said.

"Considering our advanced ICT prowess, Korea is equipped with some of the best infrastructure for the growth of unmanned aircraft and vehicles," Park said at the meeting.

"If we focus our resources properly, we can catch up with the leading players," she said, urging a combined national strategy.

Despite recent dynamics surrounding drones and self-driving cars around the world, Korea has fallen behind other nations in nurturing home-grown technologies and companies related to the field.

The United States and Europe are leading the market, while China is fast catching up with strong price competitiveness.

In a renewed push, Korea, which has long relied on big companies like Samsung and Hyundai, is also jumping on the bandwagon with new investment programs and eased rules.

The government pins high hopes on smaller drones weighing less than 150 kilograms for their diverse adoption across industries, while easing related safety rules in line with international standards.

Resources will be poured especially into the industrial adoption of the tiltrotor aircraft TR-100, an airplane with helicopter-like hovering capabilities whose commercialization has been delayed since 2012.

The government also plans to speed up efforts for the full-fledged operation of self-driving cars from 2020.

Parts-makers will be nurtured to locally produce 10 key components, such as radars and telecommunications modules. A test track will be created near the Seoul Metropolitan Area by 2019 and be extended nationwide from 2020.

The ministry said other self-driving machines for agricultural and military uses are also expected to gain a boost under the new support plan.