Despite being a leader in the discrete graphics processing unit (GPU) market, NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) has kept an eye on the future. The company has been focusing on emerging trends such as autonomous cars by partnering with the likes of Tesla Motors to deploy its self-driving technology, powered by deep learning and artificial intelligence.
Due to its progress in the automotive sector, revenue from this business increased more than 60% year-over-year during the most recently reported quarter. Though this segment represents just over 6% of total revenue at present, its large potential should not be ruled out. However, the road to automotive glory is not going to be smooth for NVIDIA, as it will have to face formidable competition in the form of Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) and Harman International (NYSE: HAR).
Samsung's big move
Last November, Samsung announced that it will be acquiring Harman International for $8 billion. This is the South Korean giant's big bet on the future of automotive technology -- connected cars. The acquisition, which is expected to be complete by mid-2017, will complement Samsung's existing automotive efforts.
Currently, Samsung makes memory technology for vehicle systems, such as NAND, DRAM, and memory controllers. The company is also focused on developing object recognition systems through its CMOS image sensor division that can be used in advanced driver assistance applications. According to Samsung, "Samsung Industry CIS can be used to empower various Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) technologies including Multi Camera 360 view, Parking Assistance, Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning, and others."
Harman, on the other hand, has a number of embedded infotainment solutions ranging from object detection to navigation that are used by big automakers. By acquiring Harman, Samsung can now develop integrated vehicle technologies under one roof. More importantly, Samsung will get its hands on Harman's Life-Enhancing Intelligent Vehicle Solution, or LIVS, which was launched in 2016.
LIVS is an end-to-end connected car solution that includes features such as intelligent learning navigation and camera-enabled driver assistance systems. Additionally, LIVS also provides a comprehensive security architecture using a firewall and a hypervisor, while also allowing over-the-air updates to connected car systems to protect them from hacker attacks.
This LIVS platform serves as competition to NVIDIA's DRIVE PX2 platform. Using the DRIVE PX2, vehicles can automate driving on the highway by using sensors and cameras. The NVIDIA system is based on real-time inputs that are powered by sensors, deep learning, and surrounding vision.
More importantly, NVIDIA has already gained validation for this technology, as the DRIVE PX2 is used by Tesla Motors in all of its models. On the other hand, Harman's LIVS platform is still in the concept phase. However, since Harman is deeply embedded into the automotive space with a variety of customers, the company could accelerate deployment of the platform once it is ready.
Why Harman enjoys an advantage over NVIDIA
Though NVIDIA reported rapid growth in its automotive efforts last quarter, the company brought in just $127 million in revenue from this segment. By comparison, almost two-thirds of Harman's $7 billion in revenue last year came from sales of automotive components. What's more, the company has a backlog of $24 billion in sales.
As a result, Harman has actually has the stronger position in the automotive market, with clients such as Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, BMW, Jaguar, and even Tesla. In fact, the audio system in the Model S was developed by s1nn, which is a subsidiary of Harman International. The company seems to have even deeper relationships with automakers than NVIDIA.
How will NVIDIA respond?
Samsung's expertise in hardware and chip manufacturing will pair nicely with Harman's existing automotive features and client base. Together, they can leverage Harman's LIVS platform to power advanced driver assistance systems and compete against NVIDIA's DRIVE PX2 platform, which has yet to gain widespread adoption.
NVIDIA, however, can accelerate its own automotive development since it has been granted permission by the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test on public roads. NVIDIA can now gather more data through its autonomous technology, which will support the development of the company's next-generation autonomous platform, known as Xavier.
Xavier is expected to go into testing by the end of 2017 and could hit the ground running, as NVIDIA is working on the existing DRIVE PX2 platform with the likes of Audi. In fact, NVIDIA and Audi plan to put a Level 4 autonomous car on the market by 2020. The timeline surely looks aggressive, but the Audi Q7 presented at CES 2017 has been able to drive itself competently after just four days of training, as reported by TechCrunch.
Hence, even though NVIDIA might face competition along the way, the pace at which its automotive tech is developing will be a tailwind in the long run.