In a significant leap toward integrating technology with public spaces, South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy, in collaboration with the National Police Agency, has opened applications for operators of mobile robots to patrol and deliver services alongside pedestrians. This move marks a departure from previous regulations that barred the presence of mobile robots on South Korean sidewalks.
The revised laws now permit mobile robots to roam freely among pedestrians, provided they meet specific criteria. These criteria include being insured, weighing less than 500kg, and not exceeding a speed of 15km/hour. To ensure safety, robots must undergo a rigorous 16-point test evaluating their compliance with criteria such as staying within designated operating zones and navigating pedestrian crossings. Successfully passing the test grants the robots a safety certification.
Despite the regulatory changes, it will likely be a month before Koreans start encountering robots on sidewalks. The Ministry is yet to designate a governing body for robot certification, and applications for selection are currently being accepted. Additionally, insurance products covering potential harm caused by robots are still in development, with their release expected next month.
The responsibility for safety falls on the operators of outdoor mobile robots, who are also subject to regular traffic laws. Violations, such as a robot jaywalking, could result in fines. The tragic incident earlier this month, where a robot at a produce-sorting facility in Korea mistakenly crushed a man, underscores the importance of comprehensive safety measures.
To ease potential citizen apprehension, the government has urged people to remain calm if approached by a robot and not intentionally hinder or damage the machines. South Korea envisions a future where mobile robots become a common sight in various industries, fostering the development of an “Advanced Robot Industry Vision and Strategy” within the year. This initiative aims to encourage new businesses utilizing outdoor mobile robots and further solidify South Korea’s position at the forefront of technological innovation.