South Korea allows autonomous robots to use sidewalks

By Kim Yoon-kyoung & Kim Tae-gyu, UPI News Korea
A self-driving delivery robot moves on a sidewalk in South Korea. Photo courtesy of Neubility
A self-driving delivery robot moves on a sidewalk in South Korea. Photo courtesy of Neubility

SEOUL, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Beginning Friday, the South Korean government is allowing authorized autonomous robots to drive along the country's sidewalks.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said the new Intelligent Robots Act and other relevant regulations were in effect, permitting autonomous robots to roam along with the pedestrians.


Before this week, such robots were not allowed alone on sidewalks, requiring human operators to accompany their movements at all times.

The new regulation permits robots (including freight) to weigh up to 1,100 pounds while limiting the speed to 9.3 mph, which is similar to the speed limit on electric wheelchairs.

In a case in which a robot ends up jaywalking or violating traffic signs, the fine is to be levied against its operator. The robots are also required to be insured and must meet safety requirements.

The ministry warned people "not to be surprised" by their appearance but also not to obstruct the robot's path or willfully engage in their destruction.

Such a system of robots is expected to be a boon for businesses keen to take advantage of autonomous mobility -- delivery services, etc. -- using the driverless robots for last-mile deliveries, a critical feature for fast-growing e-commerce.


According to business tracker Statista, the worldwide market for delivery robots is expected to grow to $957 million by 2027 from $273 million last year.

The ministry expects the robots may also help maintain security, with the National Police Agency aiming to introduce patrol robots next year.

"Few countries are yet to let robots drive on sidewalks. As far as we know, only the United States and Japan allow it," an official from the Ministry told UPI News Korea.

"Many new services and applications will be possible down the road. For example, there's already a pilot program being tested with autonomous robots patrolling the streets," he said.

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