Apple car has been an open secret for about three years now. As Apple explores the automobile industry, its biggest competitor in the smartphone market is gearing up to enter the self-driving car market. Samsung has officially joined the self-driving car race. The autonomous driving market is still in its infancy, but is extremely crowded. It would be interesting to see which company emerges victorious in the long run – Apple, Samsung, Google, Tesla, or someone else.

Apple Car Concept Bosch
Image Credit: Automobile Italia/Flickr

Samsung to test autonomous driving tech on Korean roads

Just days after Apple secured the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) permit to test autonomous driving cars on public roads, Samsung has gained regulatory approval to test its systems in South Korea. The Korea Herald reports that the Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport has granted Samsung permission to test its sensor-laden cars on public streets.

The South Korean government has also allowed nearly 20 other companies to test their self-driving vehicles. The Korean government is trying to make the country an attractive place for technological and automotive innovation. South Korea allows companies to test cars even without pedals or steering wheels, which are required so that a human pilot could take control of the vehicle in case of an emergency.

Is Samsung building a full-fledged car?

No, Samsung doesn’t intend to build its own car. It is developing sensors and machine learning systems that it could eventually provide to other automakers. That’s why the electronics giant is using Hyundai cars to test its autonomous driving solutions. With Samsung’s entry, two of the world’s largest smartphone makers now brave the world of self-driving cars.

Apple car, on the other hand, was previously rumored to be a full-fledged car. When Bob Mansfield took over as the head of the Project Titan last year after leadership issues and a few key departures, he shifted the focus from building a full-blown car to developing the autonomous driving technology first. It is unclear whether Apple would only provide self-driving technology to other automakers or build its own so-called Apple car.

Apple car project: Where is it headed?

For now, Apple is testing the self-driving technology using three 2015 Lexus RX 450h SUVs and six drivers. One of Apple’s test vehicles laden with sensors was recently spotted in California. The iPhone maker has hired hundreds of engineers to work on the secretive Apple car project, including a few NASA scientists. Shilpa Gulati, one of the six employees authorized to test the self-driving cars, helped create a vehicle to explore one of Jupiter’s moons.

Though Apple fans would love to see an Apple-branded car, automobile industry experts believe that the Cupertino company doesn’t intend to build its own cars. Instead, it plans to provide the self-driving solutions, apps, and services for cars built by other automakers. Apple may partner with one or more established carmakers after developing the self-driving technology.

Leaked training documents for Apple’s autonomous driving program used the wording “Development Platform” and “Apple Automated System.” There was no reference to “vehicle” or “car” in the training materials. It lends credibility to reports that Apple is interested in the self-driving solution rather than making full-fledged cars.

Bob Mansfield and his team have until the end of 2017 to prove the viability of the Project Titan. The project has already been delayed due to the lack of focus and some high-profile departures. Before it started testing the vehicles on public roads, Apple was reportedly testing them in virtual reality conditions to keep them away from competitors and the media.

Under California law, Apple will have to share data with the Department of Motor Vehicles within a specified time. It will allow experts and Apple fans to track the progress of its self-driving car project. The company has already said in a letter to the NHTSA that it was investing heavily in automated driving and machine learning systems.

Samsung wants to be friends with automakers

Samsung seems to be taking the same approach as Google’s Waymo, which has partnered with Fiat Chrysler to make self-driving minivans. A Samsung spokesman said the company was planning to develop algorithms, sensors, and modules necessary to make self-driving cars that are reliable even in the worst weather conditions.

Late last year, Samsung announced the acquisition of Harman for $8 billion. Harman supplies active safety systems, 3D navigation, and audio equipment to the world’s leading automakers. Samsung said at the time that it wanted to be seen as a friend to carmakers rather than a competitor. The Korean company could offer automakers a complete package of self-driving solutions and connected-car systems. We don’t expect to see a Samsung-branded car driving people around the town.

Samsung and Apple may be established players in the smartphone market, but they are newbies in the self-driving car market. Players like Tesla and Google’s Waymo are leading from the front. The market is crowded with established companies and well-funded startups aiming to dominate the autonomous driving niche. As many as 30 companies have secured permission to test autonomous cars in California alone.