Samsung's automotive semiconductor business has finally begun to shine.
Following Audi, global first-tier parts suppliers (Tier 1) are also considering Samsung's adoption of infotainment processors. It is noteworthy whether the automotive semiconductor business, which has been sluggish in the past, will be a good candidate in the company.
Exynos Auto V9 Processor, following Audi, to negotiate with Hyundai and Toyota to supply
According to the industry, global auto parts makers such as Hyundai Mobis, Toyota, and LG Electronics recently conducted a technology verification (POC) for Samsung's Exynos Auto V9 processor.
This product is Samsung's application processor for premium infotainment system. Controls both the Center Information Display (CID) and the Digital Cluster. Audi previously cited the product as an AP for the next-generation infotainment system for vehicles to be launched in 2021.
An official in the automotive industry said, "Samsung Electronics did not make a POC request, but received a love call from the parts industry first." and "best of all, the performance was okay".
The Exynos Auto V9 processor, produced in the 8-nano FinFET process, is based on Arm's CPU Cortex-A76. Three graphics processing units (MPUs), the Mali-G76, were used to operate the instrument cluster, CID, and head-up display (HUD) independently.
Built-in neural network processing unit (NPU) provides fast and accurate processing of various data such as driver's voice, face, and gesture recognition to provide information suitable for driving situation. It can use up to six displays and up to 12 cameras. It supports QNX, a real-time operating system (RTOS), as well as various operating systems (OS) such as Linux and Android.
An official from the industry said, "This POC has created a very encouraging atmosphere inside Samsung." and "they are also aggressively targeting the market with all their AP roadmaps".
What market is Samsung aiming at? Between Nvidia and Mobileeye
Samsung Electronics' automotive electronic platform business team gained confidence from this achievement. They made the next generation AP roadmap already with Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) and Autonomous System-on-Chip (SoC). The strategy is to enter the high value-added market based on the delivery of AP for infotainment.
Currently, 80 percent of the ADAS market is owned by Intel's subsidiary, Mobile Eye, and NVIDIA is almost exclusively supplying autonomous SoCs. No one can fill the gap between Mobileeye and Nvidia. Samsung aims at this.
The Exynos Auto V9 processor is also available for infotainment, but if you look at hardware (HW) performance, it can be used for ADAS.
The biggest difference between infotainment and ADAS and autonomous driving is safety. The V9 processor already complies with Automotive Safety Integrity Level (ASIL) Class B, the safety standard for automotive systems. ASIL grade D is required for ADAS. If two grade B products are added, the grade is applied to grade D.
An industry official said, “Mobile Eye's solution cannot implement autonomous driving, and NVIDIA solution is too high and too expensive.”and "Samsung's goal is to fill this gap".
Automotive semiconductor business, will it be effective?
Previously, the electronics industry team at Samsung Electronics was sluggish. The unit price is high, but the volume itself is much smaller than the mobile.
In fact, the ASP of Samsung's V9 processor is 4.5 times more expensive than mobile AP. However, given that mobile devices are about 14 times more than car production and total margins aren't much different, the gross profit from mobile is much greater.
It is also a burden to supply for a long time. Products must be supplied throughout the decade of the car's life cycle, either keeping the production line intact or building stocks in advance.
For these reasons, there was a violent controversy inside Samsung Electronics in the early stages of considering the entry into the automotive parts business.
An industry official said, “But everyone agreed that the image sensor (CIS) had a higher payload per vehicle, so the market outlook was fine, but it wasn't an AP”. He explained.
The other reason is that since the launch of the automotive platform business team in 2015, no visible results have been achieved until last year.
Although product development was in progress, it was difficult to secure software(SW) solution technology such as interface technology such as Ethernet and hypervisor supporting multiple OS.
The mobile industry often procures semiconductors and embedded software to be mounted on top of them seperately, but the automotive industry requires both hardware and embedded SW as a bundle.
In the automotive industry, the reference related to automobiles is required essentially while Samsung Electronics' approach to the automotive market was that “mobile, which is the first in the market, what needs more”. It is the reason for the lack of results.
An industry official said, “Samsung Electronics has secured technology to the solution and changed the sales mind to 100%, and there is a movement to adopt Samsung products,” and “the view on the Samsung's automotive business is changing”.