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(Yonhap Interview) Life-saving drone firm calls for speedy deregulation

All Headlines 09:00 May 20, 2016

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, May 20 (Yonhap) -- It is often the case that regulation fails to keep pace with rapidly developing technology. The drone industry is a case in point.

"It feels like our hands are tied" said Park Sung-youl, Overseas Strategy Manager at Soomvi Co., a maritime life-saving drone company based in Incheon.

His company was participating in the "Seatrade Cruise Asia 2016," an annual global cruise convention that took place in Busan last week, when Park sat down with Yonhap News Agency to talk about the growth potential of the drone startup and the regulatory hurdles that put a strain on its business.

"We need to get permission from at least four government agencies when we test fly drones in Seoul," he said.

The startup company was established in April 2015 after three years of technology development, as it saw a commercial possibility of using drones in maritime disasters like ship collisions and drowning accidents. Now the company produces three types of industrial drones for pest controlling, rescuing and monitoring, on top of a leisure drone for hobbyists.

Park said the company's rescue drones can be quickly dispatched to people who are at risk of drowning or stranded at sea. Potential buyers include cruise ships, port authorities, maritime police and resorts which might want to use drones for hull inspection, sea monitoring or rescuing as well as holidaymakers.

"Governments around the world are engaged in active discussions on how to ease rules on drones. But in Korea, there hasn't been much discussion on the issue," he claimed.

But the South Korean government is also acutely aware of the need to cut unnecessary bureaucratic red-tape and put in place relevant laws to kick start the nascent industry.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport announced a spate of measures to help boost the drone industry in a ministerial-level deregulation meeting, presided over by President Park Geun-hye.

Under the plans, the ministry is set to expand drone zones, loosen up rules to produce more drone pilots, and create a one-stop agency to give out drone flying permissions. At the same time, the government plans to push ahead with more extensive application of drones in areas like dam and land inspections, wild fire monitoring and delivery.

And there is a good reason for the government to scurry to enhance the industry; according to data from Goldman Sachs, the global spending on drones is expected to reach $100 billion by 2020.

Park from Soomvi said while it was definitely "welcoming" news that a consensus for deregulation has been reached in the government, the company remained cautious about how much of the plans would actually materialize.

"We are like 'let's see,' because we know that there are so many rules and regulations that need fixing," he told Yonhap News Agency via phone on Thursday.

The company actually attended the "Aramco Asia Korea (AKK) Venture Investment Forum" in the Plaza Hotel in downtown Seoul, as one of 20 promising Korean startups. The AKK is an affiliate of Saudi Aramco, the world's largest oil company by output.

During the meetings, Park said his company emphasized its products' usability in monitoring the Middle Eastern country's massive energy plants and vast border areas.

From next week, the drone company will embark on a marketing push in the "Startup Autobahn" in Germany, a startup incubating program run by the Korea Innovation Center (KIC) Europe in Brussels. The state-run KIC Europe was established in 2013 to serve as a strategic platform for Korean companies to advance into the European market.

"With this opportunity, we will try our best to find a way to break into the global business drone market," he said.


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