Samsung Gets Green Light to Test Self-Driving Cars

By Timothy W. Martin Features Dow Jones Newswires

Samsung Electronics Co. has received regulatory approval to test a self-driving car in its home market, a reflection of the South Korean technology giant's growing ambitions in the auto industry.

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South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport gave Samsung its approval to test its self-driving technology on roads in a statement dated Monday, noting the world's largest smartphone maker's advancements in artificial intelligence.

Samsung's technology will be used on a Hyundai Motor Co.-made vehicle, the ministry said.

It is unclear where the self-driving car with Samsung's technology will be tested, but the South Korean government has allowed autonomous vehicles access to most public roads since November, in addition to a government-run facility.

Samsung confirmed it received approval to test drive an autonomous vehicle using software made by Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, the conglomerate's research-and-development arm.

Tech companies are circling the auto industry, hoping to provide the software or algorithms needed to propel driverless cars. Their interest hasn't generally extended to making the vehicles, but rather supplying the technology or components.

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The road tests will help Samsung develop its deep-learning algorithms for self-driving operations, but the company has no plans to enter the car-manufacturing business, a spokesman said.

Samsung has identified the automotive sector as a critical area for growth, as cars are increasingly outfitted with multimedia platforms and high-tech software--a potential windfall for Samsung's displays and semiconductor businesses. The Suwon, South Korea-based firm made a splashy entry into the field when it struck an $8 billion deal to buy automotive supplier Harman International Industries Inc. Harman became a subsidiary of Samsung in March.

Samsung and Harman executives told The Wall Street Journal in January that the two companies would use the other's strengths to try to build an autonomous-car platform that could be sold to auto makers, either as a total system or in smaller parts.

Samsung rival Apple Inc. is in the early phase of testing autonomous-vehicle technology on roads. Both legacy auto players and newer entrants, such as Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo and Tesla Inc., are also heavily investing in similar technology.

Global sales growth has slowed for smartphones in recent years, pushing technology companies such as Samsung into new fields. This has created a race to create digital ecosystems linking people's cars, kitchens and living rooms, with much of it controlled using a smartphone.

The Hyundai car using Samsung's algorithms is equipped with sensors that recognize road conditions and obstacles, according to the ministry. Samsung plans to develop a self-driving algorithm that can be trusted in bad weather, according to the release.

Samsung was the 19th firm to receive a permit testing autonomous vehicles since February of 2016, according to the government agency, and the eighth this year. Several of South Korea's top engineering universities, auto-supplier Hyundai Mobis Co. and internet giant Naver Corp. have also received permits.

The ministry also said it is building a testing area for self-driving cars called "K-City." A high-speed driving route will be opened before the end of 2017, the ministry said.

Min Sun Lee contributed to this article.

Write to Timothy W. Martin at timothy.martin@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 02, 2017 06:48 ET (10:48 GMT)