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Korean Connected Car Developers Alleged to Need More Collaboration
Need to Create Synergy
Korean Connected Car Developers Alleged to Need More Collaboration
  • By Jung Min-hee
  • September 25, 2017, 03:15
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South Korean companies such as Hyundai Motor Company, SK Telecom, KT and Naver are focusing on individual R&D activities rather than collaboration. (photo courtesy: Hyundai Motor)
South Korean companies such as Hyundai Motor Company, SK Telecom, KT and Naver are focusing on individual R&D activities rather than collaboration. (photo courtesy: Hyundai Motor)

 

According to German market research firm Statista, the size of the South Korean connected car market for this year is estimated at US$249.5 million whereas those of the United States, China, Germany and Japan for the same period are estimated at US$8.193 billion, US$3.038 billion, US$2.62 billion and US$1.735 billion, respectively. The South Korean connected car market is expected to reach US$1.779 billion in 2021.

Market research firm Transparency Market Research recently predicted that the global connected car market would grow to US$132 billion until 2019. BI Intelligence also said that the global total car production is likely to add up to 92 million in 2020 and connected cars are expected to account for 75% of it that year.

Under the circumstances, an increasing number of ICT companies and automakers are working with each other for connected car development. For instance, GM and AT&T are working on joint projects and providing convenience for drivers via the OnStar telematics system. Ford and Microsoft are developing a cloud connection system and Verizon released an OBD system. The same trend is being witnessed in China, too.

In contrast, South Korean companies including Hyundai Motor, SK Telecom, KT and Naver are focusing on individual R&D activities rather than collaboration, hampering a more rapid growth of the domestic connected car industry.

“The development of connected car technology will create new business opportunities in a variety of industries ranging from digital content to insurance, finance and public service,” said an expert in the industry, adding, “Major ICT companies and automakers need to cooperate more with each other and work with venture firms at the same time.”

SK Telecom and KT Intensifying Competition to Take Supremacy

SK Telecom and KT, two rivals in the Korean mobile telecommunication market, have been competing to take the initiative in the early stage of the autonomous vehicle market, which is considered a core service of the 4th Industrial Revolution. The two companies are aiming at securing superiority in future competition by preempting not only self-driving technology but also 5G infrastructure and contents in the autonomous driving car market, thereby.

According to the information and communication technology (ICT) industry on September 22, KT obtained permission for the temporary operation of a self-drive bus from Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport for the first time in Korea on the day. KT's self-autonomous bus will be put to test on public roads this month. Some automobile manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz and Scania are leading the development of self-autonomous buses as buses are long and heavy and hard to drive unlike passenger cars.

KT's self-drive bus can platoon, which means that the bus can run as part of a convoy and is loaded with a precision positioning system that utilizes a KT wireless network in addition to LiDAR, which is an object recognition sensor. "Since 2015, we have developed self-driving passenger cars in concert with Seoul National University and Unmanned Solutions. Based on this, we have developed a self-autonomous 5G bus," a KT official said.

On the same day, SK Telecom announced that it will build 5G infrastructure in the main experimental zone of K-City with the Korea Transportation Safety Authority within this year. In addition to a 5G test network, the infrastructures to be built this time will include a 5G communication control center and a high definition map (HD map) which exchange data with an experimental vehicle in 0.001 second. K-City is a self-autonomous driving test city on land of 363,000㎡ to be built by the Korea Transportation Safety Authority and the Korea Automobile Safety Research Institute in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province and will be completed in the second half of next year. SK Telecom succeeded in a test run of a self-driving car being developed by the company for 33 minutes on a 26-km section of the Gyeongbu Expressway on the previous day.

Mobile carriers are planning to offer a variety of services combined with telecommunication and their own contents in the future by acquiring technologies related to self-autonomous vehicles. In particular, SK Telecom is planning to compete with global players by securing technology through cooperation with global companies such as Nvidia and BMW.

According to Goldman Sachs, the market of autonomous vehicles is expected to grow rapidly from 3.4 trillion won (US$3.0 billion) in 2015 to 325 trillion won (US$292 billion) in 2034.

More Chances for Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics

According to the US government’s new guidelines regarding autonomous cars released on September 12, under the title of A Vision for Safety, the minimum required safety evaluation score applied to the test driving of autonomous cars has been lowered from 15 to 12 and automakers do not have to consider ethical matters and privacy protection with regard to the new type of cars.

Major automakers, in the meantime, are planning to come up with autonomous cars within a couple of years. Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently said that he would unveil a technological system for completely autonomous driving late this year. Toyota is planning to release a level 4 autonomous car within 10 years. Ford is currently testing its autonomous vehicles in three states of the United States in order to produce self-driving cars without a steering wheel and pedals in or before 2021. GM invested US$500 million in car sharing company Lyft and acquired Cruise Automation for US$1 billion. BMW is testing its autonomous driving technology with Intel and Mobileye and is planning to release its first self-driving car in China in 2021.

Most of these companies are currently working with Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics and, as such, the two South Korean companies’ automotive electronics business is likely to enjoy a substantial increase in sales for the time being. Harman International Industries, a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics, is supplying infotainment components to most of the automakers and Samsung SDI is expected to supply batteries to BMW for its next electric vehicles as it did for the i3. At present, LG Electronics is supplying 11 different parts for GM’s electric vehicles. LG Electronics is planning to build an electric vehicle factory in the United States, too.

Under the circumstances, Samsung Electronics’ self-driving car business is likely to focus on open platform technology instead of the development of finished car products.

In May this year, Samsung Electronics obtained an autonomous vehicle testing license in South Korea. It obtained a license for the same purpose in California on September 1, too. The former was acquired by the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology and the latter was acquired by the Samsung Strategy Innovation Center. Both of them are Samsung Electronics’ arms in charge of R&D. This implies the company will concentrate on long-term system platform development rather than the commercialization of self-driving vehicles in the near future.

Samsung Electronics announced four months ago that it would combine its AI assistant Bixby with Harman International Industries’ in-vehicle infotainment systems. At that time, Harman mentioned the concept of digital cockpit, saying that it would supply a platform that covers infotainment and HUD to audio and sound management, lighting and dashboard operation.

Likewise, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure & Transport of South Korea recently mentioned that Samsung Electronics is expected to work on self-driving algorithms reliable even in bad weather and intelligent auto parts combining AI, deep learning and so on with one another by making use of autonomous cars. In short, Samsung Electronics’ autonomous car development is likely to take the form of its information technology added to Harman’s capabilities.

In fact, Samsung Electronics already revealed this aspect in the field of IoT by coming up with the Tizen OS and ARTIK as an IoT platform. Tizen, which targeted mobile devices at first, is currently focusing on the IoT and an open ecosystem revolving around smart TV.

Samsung Electronics’ business strategy for ARTIK is more similar to its self-driving car business strategy. ARTIK, which is a kind of board for developers, is an open platform on which Samsung Electronics’ components and those of the others can be combined with each other. Harman’s automotive electronics technology and Samsung Electronics’ semiconductor and display technology are expected to be combined in a similar way down the road.

AI-integrated Connected Cars

As automakers have revealed a voice recognition artificial intelligence (AI) service as a core technology of autonomous vehicles one after another, they are increasingly competing and cooperating with information communication technology (ICT) companies.

According to industry sources, Jaguar Land Rover plans to unveil the world’s first voice recognition AI-powered steering wheel “Sayer” at the Tech Fest to be held in London of the U.K. on September 8 (local time). As the company applied the AI technology to a steering wheel instead of navigation or infotainment systems, consumers can buy the wheel and attach it to any car.

Toyota has scouted James Kuffner, the head of Google's AI robotics division in 2015 and co-established a big data analysis subsidiary with Microsoft in 2016, aggressively investing in self-driving and AI technology development. GM has announced to introduce OnStar Go, a solution using IBM’s AI software Watson, starting from this year, and BMW is also working with Intel Mobileye and China’s Baidu on the AI technology.

Local automakers also are making an effort to develop voice recognition-based AI technologies. Hyundai Motor used Amazon's Alexa in some Genesis models in the North American market and will apply a server-based voice recognition system, which was co-developed with Kakao, to the Genesis G70 launched on September 15. 

‘K-City,’ World’s Largest Self-Driving Car Test Center  

To promote the industry of autonomous cars, South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport held a groundbreaking ceremony of “K-City” at the Korea Automobile Safety Research Institute at the Korea Transportation Safety Authority located in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province on August 30. The ceremony was attended by more than 150 people from related organizations including minister of land, infrastructure and transport Kim Hyun-mi.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport decided to install K-City, a virtual city for autonomous driving tests with a total investment of about 11 billion won (US$10 million), at a test site of 320,000㎡ at the Korea Automobile Safety Research Institute.

Aimed at becoming the world's best autonomous driving car test bed, K-City will create a realistic road environment such as highways, downtowns, suburbs and parking facilities. Especially, the virtual city will feature a variety of facilities such as highway toll booths, interchanges, crosswalks, buildings, underpasses and tunnels, and advanced communication equipment for autonomous driving will be installed.

Its road facilities are tollgates, ICs and JCs, traffic lights, crosswalks, intersections, bus and taxi stops, unpaved roads, railroad crossings, construction sites, pot holes, tunnels, narrow roads, and 4G wave Wi-Fi equipment.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport expect that K-City will be useful for the development and verification of self-driving vehicle technologies because it is possible to repeat and reproduce experiments after setting up necessary conditions such as various dangerous situations in K-City. In particular, the highway section will be built in October this year, and entire K-City will be completed by the end of next year so that K-City will be available to all institutions that want to develop autonomous drive technology such as the private sector, academia, and start-ups.

"K-City will be a test bed for autonomous vehicles with the world's best facilities and will be impeccable compared to similar facilities in developed countries," said Kim Chae-kyu, an officer of vehicle management division at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. “I expect that K-City will be a stepping stone to the development and commercialization of self-driving vehicle technology."