Samsung is making a big push into the nascent self-driving car market with a new $300 million fund and a dedicated business unit for developing autonomous technology, the company announced today. That new unit will be built inside Harman, the audio technology giant that Samsung acquired for $8 billion late last year. Its goal will be to build a top to bottom technological platform that automakers can incorporate into their cars to run everything from infotainment to self-driving capabilities.
The announcement comes two weeks after the California Department of Motor Vehicles revealed Samsung was granted a self-driving vehicle permit in that state, adding to the ones that the company already had in its home country.
Of course, dozens of companies big and small have self-driving permits in California. So today’s news offers much more clarity about Samsung’s big ambitions in the autonomous vehicle space, including a goal of building a more open-source suite of self-driving software solutions.
“Our industry is literally screaming, saying, ‘We love Mobileye but we need an open platform,’” Dinesh Paliwal, Harman’s chief executive officer, told Bloomberg. “Competition is the best thing ever. The auto industry wants us to do it and we think we have the capacity and the fuel power.”
Mobileye, which is perhaps best known for being a key partner in the original version of Tesla’s Autopilot software, is now owned by Intel, which has automotive partnerships with BMW, Fiat Chrysler, and Delphi Automotive.
To accomplish this, Samsung’s first investment from that new automotive fund is in TTTech, a company that powers the semi-autonomous and automatic safety capabilities of the 2017 Audi A8. (Audi also already uses Samsung processors, semiconductors, and other components for its infotainment systems and driver assistance features.) Samsung plans to work with TTTech on everything from infotainment to “scalable architectures to support fully autonomous vehicles across various industries,” according to a statement.
“We’re excited about Samsung’s commitment to TTTech and the joint creation of new architecture for open autonomous and ADAS technologies, involving multiple key automotive players and suppliers,” Alejandro Vukotich, the vice president of autonomous driving of Audi said in a statement.
In that sense, it sounds like Samsung wants to be more than just an open-source competitor to Mobileye. It also sounds a lot like the partnership model that Waymo, the former Google self-driving car project, has been pursuing since late last year. Of course, Waymo has a head start of a few million self-driven miles.