Despite being the last to bid, the South Korean tech giant is a worthy opponent. As the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer it’s responsible for nearly 20% of South Korea’s entire GDP.
Samsung was given the go-ahead by South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT), which said it was keen to promote growth in advanced automotive industries. A spokesperson for MOLIT said: “Self-driving cars call for the collaboration of various cutting-edge technologies from the automobile, artificial intelligence and information communication sectors”.
Samsung has its eyes on many of these industries, and rather than developing a whole car the firm is currently focused on producing sensor modules and artificial intelligence for testing in fellow Korean company Hyundai’s vehicles. This is a partnership similar to Google’s current link with Fiat Chrysler to build minivans together and test them Phoenix, Arizona.
Samsung will also be squaring-off against Apple, its long-time competitor in smartphone technology, which, it was disclosed last month, has been awarded a permit to test on the streets of California by the U.S. Department of Motor Vehicles.
Samsung’s interest in advanced vehicle technologies was only confirmed last year, after acquiring American engineering firm Harman International for $8 billion. In a press statement Samsung said it hoped that the deal would give the company “a significant presence in the large and rapidly growing market for connected technologies, particularly automotive electronics, which has been a strategic priority”.
Samsung’s bid comes amid a heated time for the world of driverless cars, with a lawsuit between Waymo and Uber underway in San Francisco. Waymo, a spin-out from Google’s parent company Alphabet, alleges that former employees stole trade secrets from the company before joining Uber. Waymo is expected to ask for an injunction to prevent the technology in question – related to LiDAR, which allows driverless cars to ‘see’ around them – from being used by Uber, throughout legal proceedings.
Samsung, conversely, will enjoy more relaxed regulations surrounding driverless testing in South Korea, which were revised by the MOLIT in March. The new laws allow the operation of automated vehicles without a steering wheel or pedals, and only one occupant on-board.
In a separate statement from MOLIT, Vice Minister Jeongho Choi said: “This revision aims to allow researchers and manufactures in the private sector to test-drive autonomous vehicles in more diverse environments. I hope that it stimulates further innovation in this sector”.
Samsung have yet to comment on change.