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SK invests in self-driving car tech

May 15,2017
Another Korean conglomerate has taken a deeper interest in autonomous vehicles, following the leads of Hyundai Motor, Samsung and Naver.

SK Telecom is teaming up with U.S.-based Nvidia to develop core technology for self-driving cars, according to the leading Korean mobile carrier Sunday.

Based in California, Nvidia developed the world’s first graphics processing unit, which can manipulate computer graphics and process images, including 3-D images. The company manufactures high-tech GPUs for autonomous vehicles based on its technology in deep learning and artificial intelligence.

SK Telecom has the largest market share in Korea’s mobile phone industry. Its interest in self-driving cars is based on its connectivity and the technology to precisely pin-point a driver’s location in Korea.

SKT has provided a GPS and navigation service accessible via phone since 2002, before the advent of smartphones. It later upgraded those services to a mobile app called T map, which is the most used mobile navigation service in Korea.

SKT’s dominant position in car navigation services will offer vast amounts of data on Korea’s roads, which will be valuable for developing software for autonomous vehicles.

“The first task we will embark on is upgrading T map (currently offered in 2-D), to a 3-D high-definition map,” said SK Telecom CEO Park Jung-ho to Korean reporters after signing a memorandum of understanding with Nvidia at San Jose, California on Thursday.

High definition mapping will be a core technology for self-driving vehicles, allowing them to know exactly where they are. SKT says that the 3-D HD maps will present a landscape or cityscape with accuracy of up to 25 centimeters (10 inches) and help a car navigate in fog or situations in which its sensors are inadequate.

Another field of possible collaboration is the development of V2X, or “vehicle-to-everything-communication.” This technology enables cars to exchange information with other vehicles and infrastructure such as traffic lights and base stations, which will transfer location information to cars.

“Until now, research for connectivity in autonomous cars was generally confined to enhancing devices inside the car, like sensors and cameras,” said the company.

“Our collaboration with Nvidia will focus on studying connectivity with external objects and control towers, which will enhance accuracy and the safety of hands-free driving.”

Because information has to be sent and received immediately, the technology requires fifth-generation (5G) networks, which are 30 times faster than the fourth-generation or LTE.

Although not yet fully developed or commercialized, 5G is an essential technology for the realization of all kinds of Internet of Things applications, which is why global telecommunication companies are in a race to develop more stable network environments with the hopes to set an international standard.

“Becoming a leader in self-driving technology is an important task not only for the company, but the country as well,” said CEO Park of SKT. As for the development of 5G, he promised to finalize the infrastructure for that network by 2019.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]