UK Government launches new £8m AI Smart Shipping Fund


UK Maritime Minister Lord Davies has announced an £8 million funding boost in the form of a Smart Shipping Acceleration Fund that will kickstart feasibility studies to develop smart shipping technologies such as AI, robotics, and autonomous vessels.

Organisations can apply for the Smart Shipping Acceleration Fund to use AI for projects that make UK waters safer, operations smoother and air cleaner. The winning projects will be required to match government funding – leveraging further investment from the private sector.

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, said: “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”.

The latest funding comes from the wider £206 million UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions (UK SHORE) programme, announced in March 2022. The competition will be managed by the delivery partner Innovate UK.

Mike Biddle, Executive Director for Net Zero at Innovate UK, said: “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.”

Eleanor Watson, AI ethics engineer and AI Faculty at Singularity University and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) member, welcomed the funding news, commented: “It’s ultimately in the interest of businesses to embrace this. AI is advancing at a tremendous rate and its power or potential is now far clearer to the public. The technology’s vast applicability opens up so many opportunities and organisations cannot adapt quickly enough to new developments.

“AI systems will be a huge growth sector, provided leaders acknowledge AI’s limitations, as well as its potential, they can work with it to transform economic efficiency. However, we will need to understand the impact on employment and any other implications to ensure everyone can adjust to these developments,

Dr Antonio Espingardeiro, fellow IEEE member and software & robotics expert, said: “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. The true capabilities of this technology are yet to be fully realised. We are just starting to see the beginning of a new era where machine learning could bring substantial value.”