Samsung Electronics believes now is the time to bet big on a shift toward electric, connected and autonomous vehicles. The company predicts its sales to the auto industry could quadruple by the middle of the next decade as content per unit soars.
President and Chief Strategy Officer Young Sohn described Samsung's current $5 billion share of revenue from the car industry as modest, but he believes cars offer one of the best long-term growth opportunities for a company known for its Galaxy smart phones.
"It's not much for Samsung, because we make $200 billion in revenue, but I'm hoping over time that this portion will increase and we will hit $20 billion by 2025," Sohn told Automotive News Europe.
To enable Level 3 conditional autonomy, for example, Samsung estimates manufacturers will have to install sensors, electronics and software to a car worth another $2,500 in incremental added content. As vehicles are equipped with more and more features, the electrical architecture – what Sohn calls the plumbing – must adapt to handle the rapidly rising rate of data transfers.
Instead of the hundreds of megabytes of information presently being generated in a car during a day, upcoming Level 3 piloted cars such as the Audi A8 will have to handle hundreds of gigabytes and eventually terabytes once they are fully autonomous. "When you have your data increase by 100,000 times, then suddenly everything you do around your plumbing has to change," he said. "That's like having a small data center in your rear trunk, it's a tremendous opportunity for IT companies like us."
Samsung already took a step toward that goal with its recent $8 billion purchase of Harman International Industries. It also has another $80 billion at its disposal. Now it is creating a new ADAS (advanced driving assistance system) strategic business unit run by John Absmeier, who joined Samsung last year from Delphi, where he helped develop the supplier's autonomous vehicle platform.
Key product due in 2021
A key product that could go into production in 2021 at an investment of several hundred million dollars, Sohn believes, will be a new open-source hardware platform for autonomous driving that he hopes can become the standard for the industry.
By harmonizing interfaces and designing an interoperable software, third parties can independently develop components and applications. That way carmakers can simply swap in whatever best-in-class components are available on the market without having to redesign or repackage the vehicle.
Sohn argues this approach would drive innovation the fastest, allowing autonomous driving technology to be deployed much more cost-effectively and bring to market functionalities that would otherwise take eight to 10 years to debut.
Developed together with TTTech of Austria, Samsung's prototype system that it demonstrated at the Frankfurt auto show in September looks a bit like a small laptop computer, but it's designed to take a lot more punishment. Essentially, it's like a more advanced and flexible version of the so-called "zFAS" that controls the Audi A8's Level 3 driving features, which Sohn calls a "great validation" of the technology he plans to use.
For the moment, its Ethernet architecture can transfer 6 gigabits of data per second between dozens of electronic control units, but Samsung wants to boost its speed. "Otherwise the thin pipe is not going to digest the data," Sohn said, using his plumbing metaphor.
To offer automakers the greatest possible flexibility, Samsung's scalable principle is relatively simple. For example, one unit would suffice to achieve Level 3 functionality. For higher levels of autonomous driving, manufacturers can simply add units until they meet their needs, stacking them on top of each other or laying them flat depending on packaging needs. This could give a vehicle computing power ranging from 20 to 200 teraflops, which is a measure of the calculations it can make per second.
Sohn said the current challenges carmakers face remind him of the transformation the IT industry went through 20 years ago, when every computing company used its own proprietary architecture. Today cloud services such as Amazon Web Solutions are standardized and interoperable, allowing customers to plug in the latest microprocessing units or memory chips without worrying about hardware compatibility.
"Those are features that can accelerate the adoption of new technology," Sohn said. "At the end of the day, nobody can afford to develop a technology that is a dead end. It's too expensive."