UK gov announces £8 million boost for AI maritime

Cargo ship from above

The UK government is launching an £8 million Smart Shipping Acceleration Fund to drive maritime innovation and harness the benefits of AI to boost productivity.

The AI maritime funding will support feasibility studies for cutting-edge technology – from self-driving boats to ports using automated systems.

Maritime minister Lord Davies is in Southampton today (22 April) announcing the £8 million funding boost.

The Smart Shipping Acceleration Fund will kickstart feasibility studies to develop smart shipping technologies such as AI, robotics, and autonomous vessels. The winning projects will also require match funding – leveraging further investment from the private sector.

AI in marine environments

According to the Department for Transport, successful ports will be able to use AI to detect safety hazards, optimise port activities and reduce their environmental footprint – making UK waters safer, operations smoother and air cleaner.

Maritime minister Lord Davies says: “Using AI and cutting-edge technology to make boats smarter and transform port operations is part of our plan to decarbonise shipping, enhance safety for our seafarers and help grow the economy.

“AI has the potential to revolutionise the sector, create jobs and support the economy.”

Today’s funding comes from the wider  £206 million UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions (UK SHORE) programme, announced in March 2022.

Lord Davies is visiting Ocean Infinity, which creates innovative robotic technology to transform operations at sea. The company won funding from DfT’s UK SHORE programme to undertake projects in maritime decarbonisation including, most recently, a share of £4.4m from ZEVI to develop future propulsion systems.

The competition will be managed by the delivery partner Innovate UK. Mike Biddle, executive director for Net Zero at Innovate UK, says: “The UK is recognised as a global leader in digital technology and this new fund will enhance that reputation in the maritime sector too. Innovate UK are excited to see industry-led consortia pioneer smart shipping feasibility studies that will demonstrate a clear commercial pathway and positive environmental impact in the near future. This is the latest investment as part of our key partnership with DfT around the delivery of UK SHORE to boost innovation across the UK’s vibrant maritime sector.

“Alongside this competition for business-led innovation funding, the complementary smart shipping community building programme led by Innovate UK Business Connect will provide a great opportunity for UK businesses to join a vibrant smart shipping network that’ll reach across the country.”

Peter Aylott, director of policy at UK Chamber of Shipping, says: “Artificial intelligence will deliver real change in shipping with an important role, alongside the sector’s workforce, in greater use of autonomous vessels, automation and data analysis. These technologies will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve supply chains and generate jobs.  

“Today’s funding is an important step in driving UK cutting edge technology and moving projects from the drawing board to reality.”

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