Written by Lin Xia Nan / Staff Reporter
Experts said Taiwan and Hungary have joined forces to boost testing of autonomous vehicles, as Taiwan’s chip industry is seen as adding “value” to the partnership.
On November 5, the National Applied Research Laboratories (NARL) and ZalaZone of Hungary signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) via video conference, after NARL members visited their Hungarian counterparts in 2019.
Taiwan’s first closed test ground for self-driving vehicles, opened in Tainan’s Green Energy Smart City Shalon in February 2019, and is operated by Taiwan CAR Lab, a subsidiary of NARL.
Photo: Taiwan CAR Lab, National Applied Research Laboratories
While the site covers only 1.75 hectares, which is much smaller than the 265 hectares of ZalaZone’s test grounds – the largest in Europe – Hungary sees potential benefits in cooperating with Taiwan.
“It’s not the size that matters,” Zsolt Szalay’s head of research and innovation told the Taipei Times in a video interview last month. “We can compliment each other well.”
Initially, the two sides will exchange simulation and learning techniques from different traffic conditions in each country, said Szalay, associate professor at Budapest University of Technology and Economics.
For example, there are millions of scooters in Taiwan, a different place than Europe, he said.
Szalay added that in order to establish a sound research funding plan, the two sides plan to improve cooperation between the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Hungarian Ministry of Innovation and Technology, and most likely the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
He said they also hope to involve the Taiwan Semiconductor Research Institute (TSRI), another unit of NARL, as well as industrial partners developing chip and sensor technologies.
“Taiwan has traditionally had a very strong chip industry,” Szalay said. “Chips are appearing in more and more solutions or components for autonomous vehicles via sensory systems, processing units, computers, etc., so this could also be an added value from the Taiwan side.”
He said that the signing of the memorandum of understanding is a milestone and the signatories hope to identify one or two concrete projects next year.
He added that ZalaZone has also established contacts with collaborators in China, South Korea and Singapore.
The MoU was signed at a time when Taiwan is working to improve its political and economic relations with Central and Eastern European countries.
Asked whether the warm relations contribute to the cooperation between Taiwan and Hungary, Szalay said “certainly.”
He said ZalaZone is also working with partners from Germany, as well as fellow members of the Visegrad Group, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Szalay said the block represents GDP and the value proposition much larger than Hungary’s.
While CAR Lab in Taiwan has had discussions with test regions in France, Canada, Japan and Singapore, ZalaZone is the first to sign an agreement with them, said Zhang Longyao (張龍耀), deputy director of Taiwan CAR Lab.
Aside from the tests, ZalaZone is helping the European Union develop new legislation for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and self-driving vehicles, he said.
Previously, he said, Taiwanese companies planning to sell their products to Europe had to send components there for testing and recovery before further recalibration was carried out in Taiwan.
He said that by cooperating with ZalaZone, Taiwan will have early access to new EU legislation, allowing local companies to save costs and time when developing new vehicle components.
In 2020, the total revenue generated by Taiwan’s auto electronics companies was NT$250.7 billion (US$9.05 billion at the current exchange rate), which is a record high and exceeds the value generated by auto and automotive components.
The Center for Automotive Research and Testing said in a report that the average car contains more than 100 electronic control units, but this number is bound to increase amid the increasing demand for smart vehicles.
Zhang said that since its inception on February 25, 2019, Taiwan CAR Lab has hosted 628 tests of 20 self-driving vehicles with SAE Level 3 automation, including 18 auto electronics companies with ADAS testing.
He said research teams from National Cheng Kung University, Shimi Motor and Industrial Technology Research Institute also tested their components and technologies from cellular vehicles to everything in the test yard in Shalon (沙崙).
He added that the lab documents tests, produces reports for users, and offers discounts to users who want to share derived data.
In Taiwan, Zhang said, public transportation vehicles are still the core component of self-driving vehicles under development, as the cost of developing self-driving passenger cars is not yet affordable for individual consumers.
He said before self-driving vehicles can enter real-world settings, transportation infrastructure, such as traffic lights, must be digitized.
Self-driving cars can be visualized as “smartphones on wheels,” so researchers develop chips and systems for the autonomous vehicle based on their research and development (R&D) experience in portable and consumer electronics, TSRI Design Service Deputy Director Chen Chi-shi (陳 麒旭) said.
He said the department a few years ago began offering a simulation program for vehicle testing, and is working with a local university to develop key technologies related to chips for self-driving vehicles, as part of the government’s policy to focus on artificial intelligence chips.
Chen said the department’s researchers are primarily tasked with “proof-of-concept” of an advanced technology, while serving as a bridge between academia and industry before the technology can be applied in industrial settings.
On December 24, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) at the opening of the Cyber Security and Intelligent Technology R&D Building of the Ministry of Science said that smart mobility, smart healthcare and smart life will be the three main pillars of research and development in a facility, and Shalon will become A stronghold of technology development in southern Taiwan.
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