CANGO Auto View :New Era of Smart Vehicles – Tech Companies Disrupting the Auto Industry Chain

Date: 2021-06-22

It’s been 130 years since the first car was made. During this period, the auto industry forged ahead despite constant challenges brought by oil crisis, traffic jam, urban diseases, regional environmental pollution and global warming. The fundamental reason for the auto industry’s century-old history and its endurance lies in the fact that it has always been one of the most active areas of technological innovation and progress, embracing and seeding new technologies, materials, processes and equipment, which also propelled the development of many related industries. The history of automobile is one of continuous technological transformations and innovation. More importantly, leveraging opportunities which arose in every technological revolution, the automobile industry accelerated its own development and growth.

Turning into 2021, as smart EVs are more widely accepted, smart parts suppliers specializing in smart car technologies, autonomous driving and smart cockpits have become the new darlings. At the Shanghai Auto Show this year, a large number of tech companies focusing on autonomous driving and smart cockpit solutions received special attention. As companies developing the underlying technologies of the industry, they are considered indispensable for reshaping the whole industry chain in the four new trends, i.e., automation, connectivity, electrification and shared mobility.

Not only that, as car-making further gravitates toward electrification and intelligence, more tech companies and IT giants joined the game along with early movers – a few tech companies like Baidu. Auto Shanghai 2021 staged a number of tech companies such as Baidu, Huawei, DJI, and Horizon Robotics, clearly indicating the changes that are happening in the industry.

Traditional auto suppliers are also keeping up with the trend. ZF debuted the next generation of its ZF ProAI supercomputer at the beginning of the year, which was designed to meet the requirements of software-defined vehicles and their new electronic architectures based on domain or zone controllers.

MAHLE unveiled its new generation of high voltage air-side PTC heaters, using optimized design of new radiating fins to increase thermal efficiency while reducing the volume and weight, effectively improving the winter driving performance of electric vehicles.

Grupo Antolin premiered its smart cockpit demonstrator INSPIRE, that revealed its state-of-the-art technology related to lighting & HMI, active surfaces and electronics. Dynamic lighting to create different driving scenarios, backlit surfaces in unique materials, a display deco module, sewed light guides, smart decors, natural active surfaces, light projections and the driver monitoring system ─ these are seamlessly integrated in a unique demonstrator.

Aptiv presented SVA (Smart Vehicle Architecture), an open-server platform, ADAS active safety solutions and EV solutions at the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show. Aptiv’s SVA is an innovative vehicle-level design that reduces complexity, unlocks innovation opportunities, enables automated assembly and provides redundancy operations in case of failures, while reducing costs.

Vehicle Technologies Highly Sought After by Investors

There is no doubt that onboard chips, onboard sensors, ADAS solutions, advanced autonomous driving solutions and smart cockpits have become the most discussed areas, and even keywords of new investments of the auto industry.

Taking smart driving technology companies as an example, it was a key focus of the capital market in 2020. According to public data, there were 39 capital raises in the global autonomous driving industry in 2020, with total financing of RMB43.162 billion, an increase of over 30% year-on-year.

Among them, domestic Chinese companies such as WeRide, Pony AI, Horizon Robotics and UISEE all completed a new series of financing, millions of dollars each.

In early January 2021, WeRide completed Series B1 financing of USD200 million, led by Yutong Group, a strategic investor. In mid-January, the company quickly completed Series B2 and B3, with total Series B financing reaching USD310 million. Immediately after the completion, the company moved on to Series C.

UISEE Technology completed a new series of financing with a cumulative amount of over RMB1 billion on January 25 and received strategic capital injection from the National Manufacturing Transformation and Upgrade Fund. This is the first state-backed investment in the field of autonomous driving.

Pony AI announced on February 8 that it has received USD100 million in Series C+ financing, concluding Series C with a total of USD367 million in fundraising. The new investors are BIA (Brunei's sovereign wealth fund) and CPE. This was the first financing conducted by Pony AI in 2021. In the 12 months before that, the company has raised a total of nearly USD900 million.

Horizon Robotics, the only domestic company that has achieved mass production of pre-installed auto smart chips, just completed its Series C2 financing of USD400 million in early January and its Series C3 financing of USD350 million on February 9. As of now, Horizon has already raised USD900 million in Series C.

The Time Has Come for Automotive-Grade Chips

It is worth mentioning that Horizon is the only company in China that has secured mass production orders for automotive-grade AI chips. As chip shortage is plaguing automakers, Horizon is one of the most sought-after companies in the supply chain. It’s now partnering with a number of OEMs such as Audi, BYD, Changan Automobile, Great Wall Motor, Dongfeng Motor, GAG Group, Hongqi, JAC Group, Lixiang, Chery Automobile and SAIC Motor.

According to public sources, the main products of Horizon Robotics are Horizon Matrix® Mono ADAS solution, Horizon Matrix® Pilot autonomous driving solution, Horizon Matrix® FSD fully autonomous driving solution, and Horizon Halo™ onboard intelligent interaction solution. Based on Horizon's inhouse-developed automotive-level AI chips, its automaker partners can quickly develop autonomous driving and smart cockpit functionalities. The Horizon Journey 2 chip has been mass-produced and installed in vehicles.

It is reported that Horizon will target L4 autonomous driving and build Horizon Matrix® FSD fully autonomous driving solution based on its Journey 5 chip. Journey 5 will have 96TOPS computing power, a dual-core vision DSP module, and ASIL-B (D) functional safety. The overall computing power of Horizon Matrix® FSD can reach 200-500 TOPS, and it supports 12-channel camera. Lidar can be added to achieve point-to-point autonomous driving without disengagement, urban parking, smart summon, and full self-driving capability covering all kinds of scenarios.

SemiDrive is another key player in terms of automotive processors. It has developed four products as of now, i.e., X9U, V9T, G9Q/G9V. SemiDrive has also secured orders for millions of pieces per year. Ambarella, a tech company that specializes in visual perception automotive processors, achieved mass production for its CV2X series. CV2X processors all adopt 10nm process, which can be used for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), smart cockpits, electronic rearview mirrors, assisted parking and other functionalities.

However, starting from the end of 2020, the chip shortage has affected production plans of many car companies. Products affected include storage, passive components, semiconductor materials, silicon wafers, automotive chips and PCBs. The lack of chip supply may be a huge barrier for the future development of China's auto industry. Therefore, Chinese companies must accelerate the R&D and manufacturing of auto chips.

The Burgeoning Autonomous Driving Market

When it comes to autonomous driving solutions, Baidu Apollo has always attracted much attention. With the full support of Baidu, Apollo has accumulated L4 autonomous driving test mileage of 10 million kilometers.

Prior to this, Baidu Apollo unveiled Apollo Lite, its closed-loop solution for pure visual self-driving on urban roads. According to the company, this is the only L4 pure visual perception solution for urban roads in China.

According to Wang Liang, chairman of Apollo Technical Committee, Apollo Lite can support parallel processing of 10-channel cameras and data amount of 200 frames/second. The maximum frame loss rate of single visual link can be controlled below 5‰, realizing 360-degree real-time environmental perception. The visual detection range for front obstacles is stablized at 240 meters.

In 2020, Baidu launched ANP (Apollo Navigation Pilot), based on the L4 assisted driving on complex urban roads powered by Apollo Lite, high-precision maps and the vehicle-to-everything (V2X) platform. Through dimensionality reduction of L4 technologies, high-precision maps, V2X and the mass production solution for the pure visual system, ANP provides users with assisted driving capability with zero intervention from start to finish. ANP enables vehicles to seamlessly switch from AVP to urban roads, pass ramps, ring roads, highways, high-speed JCT, ETC, and return to urban roads, completing point-to-point autonomous assisted driving.

Baidu Apollo has opened the Apollo database, that is, Apollo Scape large-scale autonomous driving dataset to provide solutions for industry users. It is expected to achieve pre-installation mass production in 1 million vehicles in 5 years.

Didi Chuxing has also made remarkable progress in self-driving. During the Shanghai Auto Show this year, Didi introduced Didi Gemini, a new hardware platform, which incorporates critical hardware upgrades including electronic components and vehicle-level experience. Mounted on the Volvo XC90 redundancy model, DiDi Gemini is architected with multi-layered redundancy protections in four aspects, including high-performance sensors, on-board autonomous driving system, remote safety assistance system and high compatibility with the pre-installed car model. Gemini will be a major feature for DiDi’s next generation of self-driving fleet.

DiDi Chuxing claims that its Gemini autonomous driving platform has significantly increased the number and variety of sensors, and enhanced the computing power and other functionalities of the system. The new vehicle includes up to 50 high-resolution sensors, achieving 700 trillion operations per second (TOPS) of performance with imaging speed as fast as tens of millions of point clouds per second, while keeping the overall cost unchanged.

The new generation of Didi self-driving vehicle is said to have up to 50 sensors, with the furthest detection distance of more than 300 meters, the minimum detection distance of 10 cm, and the total number of pixels of auto-grade cameras of more than 100 million. By designing different combinations of long-, middle- and short-range Lidar, camera and radar, combined with various sensor functions including infrared camera, the front view features an overlay of redundancy coverage of 12 layers of sensors, which can enhance the sensing ability of vehicles in complex scenarios such as shade, tunnel, rain and fog, backlighting and night, and achieve a higher safety level in automatic driving.

Zhang Bo, CTO of Didi Chuxing and CEO of Automatic Driving, said that safety concerns is what brings Didi to the research on automatic driving. Didi Gemini designs multiple redundancy layers, so that the main and backup systems are both independent and collaborative, providing multiple security guarantees for users. It is also intended to lay a good safety foundation for the unmanned test phase.

In addition to launching the new hardware platform, Didi Autonomous Driving has also recently upgraded its software version. In early April this year, Didi released the world's first video of autonomous driving without disengagement for 5 consecutive hours, showing stable performance in complex scenarios including driving in continuous backlighting, overtaking on narrow roads, turning left without protection, and U-turn at a large intersection. In June last year, Didi Autonomous Driving started manned test service to the public in Shanghai. In March this year, Didi Autonomous Driving announced a collaboration with Huadu District, Guangzhou on an Intelligent Connected Vehicle (ICV) industry project.

Companies including DJI, SenseTime, Sequoia, PonyTron, QCraft, and Desay SV have also borne some fruit in self-driving.

Among them, the DJI D80/D80+ intelligent driving system can cover the 0 to 80 km/h speed range and is suitable for urban expressway scenarios. The DJI intelligent parking system has four types of application scenarios including assisted parking, memory parking, autonomous parking and smart summon.

Desay SV’s first autonomous driving domain controller based on Nvidia’s Xavier chip has been installed on Xiaopeng P7 for mass production. Currently, the main focus is on L4~L5 autonomous driving and automotive network safety, with extensive research on the architecture and algorithms.

The SenseAuto smart cabin solution by SenseTime consists of Driver Monitoring System (DMS), Occupant Monitoring System (OMS), Keyless Entry, Virtual Companion and multiple in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) functions powered by augmented reality (AR). It has established in-depth cooperation with carmakers such as Great Wall WEY, Chery JETOUR and NETA Auto. SenseTime has cooperated with more than 30 domestic and foreign industry-leading partners since 2018 and covered over 13 million vehicles in mass production.

Tech Companies Competing as Auto Suppliers

In addition to the aforementioned technology companies that have become automotive suppliers, more and more of them are crowding the track. In April this year, Huawei released a new generation of intelligent components and solutions including 4D imaging radar, AR-HUD, and MDC810. In October 2020, Huawei launched the HI brand. As a digital car-oriented provider of new components, Huawei has closely worked with OEMs to build premium intelligent vehicles under the innovative 'Huawei Inside' initiative, which includes a brand-new digital architecture for intelligent vehicles, five intelligent solutions (Intelligent Driving, Intelligent Cockpit, mPower, Intelligent Connectivity, and Intelligent Vehicle Cloud), and over 30 intelligent components.

Huawei's high-resolution 4D imaging radar uses a 12T24R large antenna array (12 transmit channels and 24 receive channels), which offers a 24-fold improvement over the antenna configuration of a conventional mmWave radar (3T4R) and 50% more receive channels than imaging radars, making it the imaging radar with the largest antenna array available for mass production. The 4D imaging radar has a significantly improved resolution with a larger detection range while maintaining superior distance and velocity measurement capabilities of the traditional mmWave radar. It can produce 4D high density point clouds just like lidars, thus bringing richer perception-augmented applications and implementing full-coverage sensing of all objects in different scenarios under all weather conditions. 

On top of that, Huawei’s MDC 810 is an intelligent driving computing platform with the industry's highest computing power and is ready for mass production. It provides dense computing power of up to 400 TOPS and meets the ASIL-D safety requirements. Equipped with the MDC Core (including the intelligent driving operating systems AOS and VOS) and a complete toolchain, the MDC 810 can enable high-level autonomous driving functions such as Traffic Jam Pilot (TJP), Highway Pilot (HWP), and Auto Valet Parking (AVP).

Huawei joined its car-making peers as an automotive supplier, while Xiaomi took a bolder move as its founder Lei Jun announced the company’s car-making plan in its spring conference this year. According to an announcement by Xiaomi Corporation (1810.HK), the board of directors of the Company has resolved to commence the smart electric vehicle business. The Company will set up a wholly-owned subsidiary to operate the smart electric vehicle business. The initial phase of investment will be RMB10 billion, with the total investment amount over the course of the next 10 years estimated to be USD10 billion.

Needless to say, smart cars will be the next trillion-dollar market. Intelligence is the way to go for automobiles. A mission awaits, so do huge business opportunities.