Asia’s tech giants push advances in autonomous car race

The Baidu autonomous car (modified BMW 3 series) undertaking a test run on Beijing public roads in early December 2015 - image courtesy of Baidu.
The Baidu autonomous car (modified BMW 3 series) undertaking a test run on Beijing public roads in early December 2015 (image courtesy of Baidu).

South Korean tech giant, Samsung has announced a new division to manufacture components for autonomous vehicles, while China's Baidu has revealed successful testing of its self-driving BMW prototypes.

Technology companies are moving rapidly towards automotive production and technology, as autonomous cars continue to prove that vehicles aren’t just ‘hardware’ products, but are now software-enabled devices.

The news follows our recent coverage of Apple’s plans to ship an electric car by 2019 and the mysterious new startup Faraday Future, both working towards exploring sophisticated self-driving vehicles.

Of course, Google has been testing their self-driving vehicles since 2009 and has clocked over 1 million autonomous miles, but we still haven’t seen a consumer-ready model for purchase.

Samsung enters the game

Samsung’s decision to create a new automotive parts division comes amid rumours the tech giant may be planning to build its own smart car.

According to Reuters, Samsung’s new division will develop “in-car entertainment, satellite navigation and autonomous driving technologies”. The team is also set to work with other technology arms of the Samsung Group.

The move by Samsung comes as profits for the company’s flagship smartphone division have fallen, and the company looks for a new revenue stream in the newly created automotive arm.

LG, also South Korean, develops car components and systems, supplying 11 systems for the new Bolt. The General Motors joint design and engineering deal is one that makes LG a formidable player in the automotive world.

According to a Bloomberg Business report, LG reported US$406m in revenue from vehicle components for the September quarter, while Samsung doesn’t provide results for vehicle component revenue.

Samsung’s dedicated automotive division could close the gap between the South Korean technology giants.

The substantial interest in automotive components shows the sheer demand for software systems as more manufacturers look to automated vehicles.

A recent Reuters report stated: ‘US patent filings data compiled by Thomson Reuters IP & Sciences showed increasing efforts by the world’s top smartphone maker and its affiliates to push into the rapidly growing market for automotive components, software and services that is worth around $500bn.’

Baidu autonomous car and bus

China’s answer to Google, Baidu, has also entered the self driving car market.  The company recently commenced testing of its modified BMW autonomous car on public roads around Baidu’s Beijing.

The vehicle testing is taking place on a 30km test drive route that begins and loops back to Baidu’s office and includes one of the Chinese capital’s notoriously busy ring roads. The route was mapped out by “highly automated driving (HAD) maps” in readiness for the tests.

General manager of the Baidu Autonomous Driving unit said recently that he believed the technology would move swiftly and that by 2025, 80% of newly manufactured cars globally will be autonomous.

Statements from Baidu have also revealed that the company aims to put self-driving buses on the road in three years and mass produce them within five years.