The age of self-driving cars is drawing closer, and bringing a new age of technology along for the ride.
As we wait for connected infrastructure, such as traffic lights, bridges, and automated road lanes to catch up, it’s the car doing most of the work through sensors, cameras and radars.
And nearly all of the makers of autonomous vehicle technologies rely on a Japanese company you might never have heard of - Nippon Ceramic.
Nippon Ceramic makes a ‘computer chip’ that drives most of the sensors needed to make autonomous cars work, and sales are booming.
Company president, Shinichi Taniguchi, said in an interview with Bloomberg that the company has recently stepped up its manufacturing capacity to meet demand.
Panasonic and Denso are among its biggest customers, which on-sell the finished sensor units to Volkswagen, General Motors, Ford and others. Nippon Ceramic’s competitors include NEC and Hitachi.
Nippon Ceramic’s chip is less than one inch wide, with a token price tag of around US$1 each. So with all of the costs associated with testing and development of self-driving cars, at least some of the associated tech barely bothers the accountants.
The company reportedly controls almost half of the autonomous car market tech, with stocks up over 40 percent in the last three years and profits expected to double by 2018.
And semi-autonomous technologies are also driving Nippon Ceramic’s success, as carmakers expand the likes of autonomous emergency braking and lane-assist features into more models.
“This is a great opportunity for our growth,” Mr Taniguchi said.
“The number of sensors going into the vehicles will increase. And we would like to take a bigger share.”
Nippon Ceramic now has plans to invest around AU$12 million to expand a manufacturing facility in the Philippines.