Korea to Develop Mobile Underwater Robots
By Kim Tae-gyu
Korea is striving to develop versatile aquatic robots, which can swim as well as crawl on the seabed at a depth of 6 kilometers by 2016.
The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs said Monday that the Seoul administration will channel 20 billion won over the next five years to create the underwater vehicles.
"It must be able to swim at a speed of 18 meters per minute and walk 30 meters per minute to explore the seabed to search for organisms or minerals," the ministry's director Joo Hyun-jong said.
"On the strength of its precision camera and acoustic facilities, the robot will also be able to find sunken ships that divers cannot easily access to."
The development of a six-paddle locomotive machine has drawn people's attention here since they could have helped following the sinking of the Navy frigate Cheonan in the West Sea late last month.
Dozens of sailors died in the tragedy and eight are still missing. Bereaved families of the dead crew members believe that some of them might have been rescued alive had there been a faster search.
Due to strong tidal currents and bad visibility in the West Sea, the search and rescue of the sunken vessel took several days. The ministry believes that such a six-legged drone would be ideal to work under such circumstances.
"The development of walking deep-sea robots was proposed a couple of years ago before the Cheonan disaster as demonstrated by the modest 1 billion won earmarked for the project earlier this year," Joo said.
"But the overall budget doubled to 2 billion won in the aftermath of the Cheonan incident. We will manufacture and release the versatile vehicles as soon as possible so that they can be deployed as soon as possible."
The development of the wireless, automotive robots will be carried out under a two-phase plan.
During the first phase through 2012, a shallow-sea vehicle will be created that can maneuver at a depth of 200 meters. By 2015, a prototype will be built that can go as deep as 6 kilometers.
"The shallow-sea model will be utilized in 2013 while the deep-sea one is expected to be ready by 2016. After building prototypes, we plan to commercialize them through sharing the relevant technologies with private companies," Joo said.
The ministry is looking to pick organizations that will take charge of the development, in May.