Samsung is betting $300 million on the future of autonomous vehicles

Young Sohn SamsungAervaYoung Sohn, president and chief strategy officer of Samsung

Samsung Electronics is starting to focus on a different kind of mobile technology.

The South Korean company, known for its Galaxy smartphones, is launching a new unit dedicated to automotive tech. It’s also setting up a $US300 million fund to invest in startups in the field.

“During this period of extraordinary transformation in the automotive industry, we are excited to play a leadership role in supporting and shaping the future of smarter, more connected vehicles,” Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer of Samsung, said in a statement.

Samsung does not plan to manufacture cars, the company said in its press release. Instead it intends to expand work it’s already doing in the automotive area, including developing self-driving car technology. Samsung already has licenses to do on-road testing of autonomous vehicle technology and hardware in both South Korea and California.

At the heart of the new business unit is Harman, the American connected vehicle company Samsung acquired in March for $US8 billion. Harman manufactures car infotainment systems, along with “connected car-safety” technologies, including rear-view cameras.

As part of the new corporate structure, Harman researchers working on autonomous car technologies will work together with their counterparts at the company’s Strategy and Innovation Center, a research lab based in Silicon Valley, Samsung said. Together, the two groups will focus on developing technologies that underlie self-driving systems, including high-performance computers, sensors and artificial intelligence.

Samsung’s first investment from its new $US300 million fund is in TTTech, an Austrian company that focuses on the safety and reliability of the networked computer systems used in vehicles. Samsung has previously invested in a range of startups involved in autonomous driving and sensors through other investment funds.

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