Tesla, Samsung, and the future of Self-Driving

Tesla, Samsung, and the future of Self-Driving

The future of driving extends far beyond electric vehicles, cost-effective batteries, and green living. The end goal is to achieve fully autonomous driving and there are several companies working towards this objective such as the likes of Tesla, Apple, Uber, and Google.

However, Tesla has been at the forefront with developing self-driving technology in its EVs that is usable by its consumers. But it remains somewhat limited as self-driving vehicles need to get the tweaks ironed out before they can truly be called fully autonomous. Last year, Tesla did a beta release to selected customers to test its newly developed full self-driving (FSD) capabilities. And now, the US car manufacturer is working on its next generation of hardware to manage its 4-dimensional FSD mode that is currently being developed.

In order to achieve this next milestone, Tesla is partnering with electronics giant, Samsung to collaborate and jointly develop a 5-nanometer chip for its self-driving functionality. The 5nm-class automotive semiconductor is going to be central to FSD vehicles. 

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a shortage of semiconductors, so Samsung has been working to expand on making semiconductors for vehicles as part of their future business. Samsung is investing in research and development on the 5nm semiconductors that will be mounted on Tesla vehicles for autonomous driving. The 5nm chip uses an extreme ultraviolet (EUV) process to produce a state-of-the-art product that can only be developed by a limited number of companies worldwide, such as Samsung and TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company).

Up until now, Samsung was distributing 14nm chips to Tesla that went through an argon fluoride (ArF) exposure process, and not the latest EUV process. With the new 5nm semiconductors, Samsung will be able to work with Tesla on advancing in-vehicle infotainment (IVI). Different semiconductors like processors, memories, neural network processing units (NPUs), display driving chips (DDI), and security integrated circuits are used in IVI technology and they are key to enabling vehicles to achieve autonomous driving through processing information that is received from lighting, sensors, and other forms of communication in the vehicle, which is then displayed on screen.

Tesla being the leader in autonomous vehicles is harnessing this technology provided by Samsung as it plans to advance its IVI capabilities. Samsung will focus on increasing the semiconductor yield per wafer unit. This is the device yield number for working chips on a wafer in relation to the chips' size and wafer's diameter. Tesla will then need to work with Samsung to adjust the yield for mass production.

Last year, Samsung started to reorganize its internal personnel structure that entailed relocating manpower in the advanced driving assistance system (ADAS) field to work developing IVI technology for vehicles. If Samsung can succeed in mass producing semiconductors for Tesla, the South Korean electronics company can become a leading distributor for other auto manufacturers looking to incorporate and improve on their FSD offerings.

Although TSMC, based in Taiwan, launched the first 7nm vehicle design platform in the second quarter of 2020, Samsung is looking to get ahead of the curve by skipping the 7nm class and focusing on developing the 5nm instead. The 5nm has improved logic density, better performance, and lower power consumption compared to the 7nm chip.

If Tesla can utilize the 5nm chip to transform its AI for fully autonomous driving, it will be able to get an added advantage in the EV space, especially as we’re seeing more car manufacturers emerging to develop electric vehicles. Tesla needs to stay ahead of the game as the leading EV producer and perfecting the technology for self-driving is a one way to ensure it can keep setting itself apart from other manufacturers.