South Korea to develop AI chips for self-driving cars

The South Korea government will invest 14.3 billion won ($12.2 million) over the next three years to develop artificial intelligence (AI)-powered semiconductors for self-driving cars.

The ICT ministry said self-driving cars are a new growth engine in the semiconductor industry and the investment plan is to help local companies that are required to speed up the development of related technologies.

The government expects the self-driving semiconductor market will grow to $26.3 billion by 2025.

“Self-driving cars are a new growth engine in the semiconductor industry so we forecast there will be growing demand for semiconductors in the sector. Particularly self-driving cars at level 3 or higher require artificial intelligence technologies so that vehicles can recognize traffic conditions by themselves,” the ICT ministry said.

Level 3 automation for vehicles means an automated system performs some driving tasks but human drivers must be ready to take back control of the car when needed.

Vehicles with level 4 or 5 automation systems are fully self-driving cars as they don’t require human drivers. While about 100 semiconductors are used in one self-driving car, the ministry said the figure will grow to around 2,000 for the vehicles with level 4 or higher.

To develop AI chips for self-driving cars, the ministry will invest the money in fabless or chip design companies and automotive parts manufacturers.

Including the development of AI chips for self-driving cars, the government will invest a total of 250 billion won for the next 10 years in developing AI-tailored semiconductors.

The ICT ministry said it is crucial to develop AI-powered chips with much faster processing speeds to produce truly self-driving cars.

“The AI semiconductors are currently being used in autonomous vehicles, drones, internet of things (IoTs) and smart cities but to develop a truly self-driving car there should be a processor with more than 1 petaflops peak performance,” the government said. One petaflops equals 1 quadrillion calculations per second.

Given high-priced software tools used for chip design has been a hurdle local fabless firms couldn’t clear, the ICT ministry will also enable them to share those software tools beginning the second half of 2019.

To achieve these goals, the ICT ministry had a meeting with industry and academic officials at the headquarters of local fabless firm Telechips in Seoul.

“The AI chip sector is still at early stage as there is no dominant technology or absolute leader in the sector. In cooperation between the government and industry, I am sure that the country can come up with competitive products in the global market,” Jang Seok-young, associate minister of ICT policy, said.

“To help firms make profits, the government will push ahead a business cooperation plan that can connect the industry with the 5G service industry” Jang added.

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