South Korea’s Naver joins self-driving car frenzy with suped-up Toyota Prius

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South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has issued a license to web portal company Naver to test a modified Toyota Prius, the company announced Monday.

“We hope the country’s advanced IT will be introduced to the self-driving car industry to help accelerate the development of self-driving technologies,” a ministry spokesperson wrote. The announcement follows initial reports that Naver was looking for a permit last month. The company has stated it would invest $425 million (500 billion won) toward the autonomous auto effort.

Korea wants Level 3 autonomous vehicles — which controls all safety features and available for the country’s open roads by 2020. In the meantime, the government is slowly making more roads available for testing. It will be the first open effort by Naver and Naver Labs to test such a car, and the first not involving the country’s Hyundai and Kia brands. It’s also the first Korean IT company to do so.

“Our car is at the level 3, which is just below level 4 when drivers can close their eyes during driving,” Cheong Ji-hoon, a Naver official, told Korean news outlet Yonhap last month.

The announcement also  comes as the ministry sent a team to check out Hyundai’s Namyang Research Institute in Hwaseong and see results of their self-driving tests (Korean). Autonomous vehicles are one of nine national priority technologies alongside VR, artificial intelligence, and smart cities in Korea, according to the ministry. Samsung has been instrumental in the latter, committing to convert the country’s third largest metro Daegu into such a tech hub.

Autonomous IONIQ Concept

Naver is not the country’s most famous IT company — Samsung claims that title by a long shot. The latter has not built its own vehicle, but has certainly moved in that direction with various investments and acquisitions. The mobile giant will soon complete the buyout of HARMAN and has staked out startup investments like TetraVue, which is building a ‘new approach’ to object-detecting LiDAR systems common self-driving cars. The company also joined NVIDIA in investing into virtual assistant technology from SoundHound.

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