The UK’s Maritime Minister has announced a new funding stream for young technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), in the shipping and wider marine sector. 

The Smart Shipping Acceleration Fund is a route to access £8m ($9.8m) from the two-year-old UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions (UK  SHORE) programme. The 2022 initiative is worth £206m ($254m) overall. 

The “accelerator” funding is essentially a competition, which the government Transport department said would be “managed by the delivery partner Innovate UK.”

“Innovate UK [is] 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,” said the organisation’s non-executive director of net zero, Mike Biddle. 

The government outlined the funding stream as a “kickstarter” to preliminary studies into AI and robotics uses in the maritime sector, and specified that bids would require “match funding” from the private sector to be successful.

“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.”

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“Using AI and cutting-edge technology to make boats smarter…is part of our plan to decarbonise shipping,” said Maritime Minister Byron Davies. 

Peter Aylott, Director of Policy at UK Chamber of Shipping said: “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.”

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)’s Antonio Espingardeiro said the benefits of AI in the maritime sector surrounds data processing and analytics. 

“As it becomes more sophisticated, the potential for the technology within this field is huge. It can analyse vast quantities of information, and when coupled with machine learning, search through records and infer patterns or anomalies in data, that would otherwise take decades for humans to analyse,” he said.