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Naver to focus R&D on autonomous vehicles, car sharing business

South Korean internet giant Naver said Tuesday that its research and development subsidiary Naver Labs will speed up efforts to develop new technologies for the autonomous vehicles and car sharing businesses.

Naver Labs — which became an independent company from Naver in early January — has included “car components manufacturing and service” as well as “car sharing” to its articles of association which outlines the new firm’s purpose and duties, Naver said.

The Naver headquarters in Pangyo (Naver)
The Naver headquarters in Pangyo (Naver)

The move was widely understood as a sign that Naver is preparing to embark on the car sharing business based on self-driving vehicles. The firm, however, clarified that it’s in the R&D phase and that it will need some time before the technologies can be translated into a full-fledged business.

“The clause was included in line with Naver’s stated goal to spur the development of futuristic technologies related to space and transportation,” a Naver spokesperson told The Korea Herald.

“It’s a part of our broader push toward autonomous vehicle development. Given Naver Labs is a R&D-focused entity, it would be too big of a leap to say that the company will begin a self-driving car sharing business at this point,” he added.

Led by its future tech R&D unit, the Korean portal operator has been stepping up moves to develop and test out its self-driving car technologies over the recent months.

In late 2016, Naver secured the Korea Transportation Safety Authority’s approval of its own vehicle topped with self-driving capabilities. The firm is currently awaiting an official license from the Transportation Ministry.

Naver is expected to begin testing out its autonomous vehicle on the road in Korea once it obtains the Transportation Ministry’s license.

According to the KTSA, the self-driving ability of Naver’s vehicle stands at Level 3 — which means drivers are still necessary but are able to shift “safety-critical” functions to the vehicle under certain conditions -- under the US-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s standards.

A fully-autonomous vehicle, whose performance equals that of a human driver in every driving scenario, would stand at Level 5, according to the NHTSA.

“Many global companies including internet technology firms are pursuing autonomous vehicle as a future business. And Naver is joining this larger trend,” the company spokesperson said.

Naver has already set aside 120 billion won ($132 million) for Naver Labs, which is working to develop technologies for not only autonomous vehicles but also artificially-intelligent speaker systems and automated translators as well as a new web browser called “Whale.”

By Sohn Ji-young (