Auto Industry

Into the driving seat?

Huawei bids for business in driverless technology, as 5G future beckons


BYD’s new Han model

Huawei has said time and again that it will never make cars. But that hasn’t stopped it pitching for business in the trillion-dollar market for next-generation vehicles. As the telecom giant’s rotating chairman Eric Xu Zhijun put it: “70% of a car’s worth in the future will not come from its outer shell and chassis, but the computing and connection technologies that pilot it”. As a result, Huawei started a business unit focusing on ‘smart auto’ solutions last May and the first fruits are apparent in BYD’s all-new flagship sedan in its ‘Dynasty’ series.

Set to go on sale in China this month, BYD’s Han model comes in electric and plug-in hybrid versions, and is intended to compete with Tesla’s sporty Model 3. Aside from relying on BYD’s pioneering Blade Battery (see WiC499), the Han will also be supported by a Huawei-developed ‘5G module’ called MH5000, as well as offering its smartphone interface, known as HiCar (which connects a user’s preferred apps – such as WeChat – to the car’s dashboard).

MH5000 is helpful because it improves cellular-based ‘vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) communications’, meaning the exchange of information between cars, pedestrians and roadside infrastructure like traffic signs and cameras. All of this will be supported through 5G networks, supposedly allowing for better road safety and improved traffic flow.

According to Jiemian, MH5000 hardware also improves the performance of BYD’s advanced driver assistance system DiPilot. A feature of DiPilot is its ability to learn from a driver’s habits through Big Data analysis and provide personalised assistance in an array of ‘autonomous’ road safety protocols such as emergency braking, lane departure warning and blind spot detection.

C-V2X technology offers a communications range of more than a kilometre and latency of less than four milliseconds, much better than its predecessor, the Wi-fi based dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) system.

HiCar, which is comparable to Apple’s CarPlay and Baidu’s CarLife, allows drivers to connect their smartphones with their vehicle’s operating systems, so that apps on the phone can be accessed from the car’s digital dashboard.

Chips made by Huawei will also be part of the design of BYD’s future models, reports 36Kr, claiming that China’s largest EV maker is already working from technical documents supplied by the Huawei-owned semiconductor firm HiSilicon.

Critics of China’s emerging semiconductor firms say that their chips aren’t sophisticated enough to support more advanced applications, like autonomous driving. A fuller advance from Huawei in supporting self-driving cars would prove otherwise, with the supply of equipment to the auto sector looking desirable for the Shenzhen tech giant on four main fronts.

First, the share of profits generated by next-generation technology in the sector will soar to 40% in 2035, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

Second, connected cars are becoming an increasingly important nexus in the market for Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT) technology in general.

Third, there are not many companies that have the resources or technical capacity that Huawel has to develop a full suite of automotive components on a competitive scale – from cloud services to sensors.

Fourth, China is the world’s largest EV market, commanding half of global sales, and seems likely to remain so till at least 2030, BloombergNEF forecasts.

As a founding member of the 5G Automotive Association in 2016, Huawei has already inked partnerships with 18 car companies, including BYD, BAIC Group and Changan Automobile. In 2018 it also teamed up with Audi to develop so-called “Level 4” self-driving technology, in which vehicles can handle all aspects of driving in most circumstances with no human intervention. The first product with these capabilities will likely be shipped by 2022, Dang Wenshuan, Huawei’s chief strategy architect, told the Financial Times.

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