Samsung creates $300 million fund and new business unit for autonomous driving tech

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Samsung has announced a $300 million fund to invest in a range of automotive technologies.

The new Samsung Automotive Innovation Fund will invest in connected car and autonomous driving technologies covering artificial intelligence (AI), machine vision, smart sensors, safety features, cybersecurity, and more. The fund’s first investment will be in Austria’s TTTech, a company specializing in safety, networking, and software integration for ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems) and automated driving platforms. Samsung revealed it will invest €75 million ($89 million) in the company.

Samsung in your car

The Korean electronics giant has made no secret of its intentions in the broader automotive realm, and it has long been ramping up its efforts in research and development for products relating to transport.

Samsung previously invested in battery technology for electric vehicles, including Seeo, which is a California-based company that develops rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and it has also invested in StoreDot, a company that’s building instant-charging batteries for electric cars. Back in 2015, Samsung went all-in on its electric car ambitions when its “materials and energy” subsidiary Samsung SDI acquired an entire battery business from Magna International.

Elsewhere, Samsung has filed for patents in both the U.S. and South Korea for technology that can be used in electric vehicles. The plans include “tires, motors, as well as on-board electronics for information sharing between the car and driver.”

The company also invested in startups such as Vinli, which is setting out to create an app ecosystem for cars, and Samsung later launched Samsung Connect Auto, which offers in-car services such as Wi-Fi to keep drivers online. If there was any remaining doubt about Samsung’s intentions in the connected car sphere, last November the company announced plans to acquire Harman in a whopping $8 billion deal — Harman specializes in connected car software and services.

Business unit

As part of today’s $300 million fund announcement, Samsung also announced a tie-up with its Harman subsidiary to create a new entity it’s calling the Autonomous/ADAS Strategic Business Unit (SBU) that’s geared toward “developing innovations for next-generation, smart, connected vehicles,” according to a statement issued by the companies. The new Harman-led business unit will report directly to Harman’s connected car division, which will in turn work with the Samsung Strategy and Innovation Center (SSIC) “smart machines” team to develop advanced technologies for connected cars.

“The Autonomous/ADAS Strategic Business Unit and automotive fund reflect the company’s commitment to the values of open innovation and collaboration,” said Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer of Samsung and Harman’s board chair. “In partnership with OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and startups, we will make the driver and passenger experience safer, more convenient, and more enjoyable.”

Today’s news comes just two weeks after Samsung secured a self-driving car permit in California that pits it against such rivals from the smartphone realm as Google and Apple, which are also working on autonomous driving technology in the state.

It’s fair to say the autonomous driving industry is really heating up.

“There is already a high demand for ADAS solutions, and that demand is rapidly growing with the advancements in connected cars and autonomous driving,” added Dinesh Paliwal, president and CEO of Harman. “This strategic business unit demonstrates Samsung’s and Harman’s commitment to answer that call — to be the definitive partner for seamless and integrated technologies.”

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