In all, 39 companies from Apple to Zoox have received permits from the state of California to conduct program testing of autonomous (self-driving) vehicles and technology. The latest addition to the list is South Korea’s Samsung Electronics.
Samsung got approval from the Korean government in May to test self-driving cars in that country using software for Hyundai vehicles. The electronics giant also owns a 20% stake in Renault Samsung Motors, part of the Renault-Nissan alliance that is the fourth largest automaker in the world.
Last November, Samsung paid $8 billion for Harman, the company behind such car audio brands as JBL, Harman/Kardon, Revel and Mark Levinson. It was Samsung’s largest ever overseas acquisition.
Samsung didn’t just acquire automobile sound systems. Harman has developed over-the-air updates for its vehicle infotainment systems that could be combined with Samsung’s own work on 5G mobile networks and the Korean giant’s display technology.
And that could be the basis for Samsung’s entry into the California test program. The company’s main rival in the mobile device business is Apple, which has said it is no longer interested in building its own cars, but providing the technology to established automakers to be included in their new vehicles.
Samsung said in 2015 that it planned to focus on self-driving vehicle software and leave the car manufacturing to someone else. There’s little question that the company is working on the right thing to ensure that it gets a piece of the market for autonomous vehicles.
The remaining question is how it will compete with the likes of Apple, Waymo, Tesla, Ford, GM, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and the smaller companies working on software systems for self-driving cars. Samsung’s advantage is very deep pockets and its early work on next generation 5G networks. Now it’s set to test some of that work on California streets and highways.