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  • Emerging Technologies for the Automotive Industry

Equal Innovation partnered with Hyundai to scout emerging technologies in the areas of autonomous driving, electric vehicles and overall mobility.  Equal Innovation scouted startups launched in 2021 across universities, startup accelerators and federal labs to identify research breakthroughs, early-stage innovations, recently launched startups, SBIR award winners and others that fit the collaboration needs of Hyundai. 

Hyundai serves as an example of the transforming innovation needs of Fortune 500 companies. Rather than looking only at startups in the automotive industry, Hyundai is scouting for a wide swath of technologies, from telecom solutions for autonomous driving to AI software for driver safety and mobility solutions to supplement its automotive business. 

Through Equal Innovation’s partnership with Hyundai, we were able to identify nearly 50 new startups for collaboration. 


We are in the middle of an age of incredible innovation in the automotive industry.  Innovation, business model disruption and climate change are rapidly transforming transportation worldwide.  Automotive companies like Hyundai are partnering with organizations like Equal Innovation, as well as universities and startup accelerators to continuously experiment and add high-tech products to their cars and transportation solutions. 

Hyundai has been interested in developing its autonomous driving technologies for several years and has developed plans to invest $35 billion to develop future mobility technology by 2025.

These funds will be used to release up to 23 different kinds of electric vehicles by 2025. This initiative has received substantial backing from the South Korean government which has pledged to spend $2.2 trillion on innovative auto technology. These financial investments and focus on technology development is also echoed in Hyundai’s Strategy 2025, which aims to focus the companies’ vast resources in areas of Smart Mobility Device, Hydrogen Solutions and Smart Mobility Service.

Overview of Hyundai’s investments and Strategic Collaborations

Hyundai has made efforts to invest in key areas and collaborations with start-ups to help build their capabilities in electric vehicles, autonomous driving and mobility services. The EV space is a new area for most of the large automobile companies that historically made non-electrically cars. Their partnership with EV start-ups like Rimac are accelerating Hyundai’s internal efforts for electronic vehicle development.  In the key growth area of autonomous driving, Hyundai has made several partnerships with DeepglintAurora, Nvidia, Baidu and Opsys Technologies and others which are helping the company scale the autonomous technology across models. The last key area of expansion includes Investments in Mobility services, where it is offering new products with startups SoundHound and, in the AI space, All these start-ups and strategic partnerships are focused on Hyundai building its future line-up of EV cars with self-driving capabilities.

Role of Innovation for Hyundai for Smart cars

The two biggest trends in the automotive industry are the growing popularity of EV’s due to their positive impact on the environment, and the race to develop autonomous driving technologies.  New entrants include tech giants like Google to automobile companies like Ford, Volkswagen and General motors, who are investing billions of dollars in autonomous technologies.

With rising expectations from consumers for environmentally friendly automobiles the Electronic Vehicle (EV) has never been so important. Hyundai has been aggressively trying to build its EV business and has managed to rank fourth in EV sales after Tesla, Nissan and Volkswagen. Although it may seem that Hyundai would have an edge over certain competitors in reality, the EV space is seeing rapid, and constant innovation. 

As modern vehicles are now multifunctional, a key area of importance to Hyundai is improving the in-car experience, which already consists of GPS systems, navigation technologies, sensors and other systems to minimize human intervention.  The company is actively scouting technologies to bring into the car.

Hyundai has a few partnerships with ride sharing platforms Uber and Lyft.  Hyundai uses these partners to gains key customer information through testing and experimentation, while the platforms get high quality cars for their fleets.  Another strategy for Hyundai has been to develop components for purpose-built cars and to component design for shared-mobility vehicles run by companies offering ride sharing service.  Although some believe that the popularity of these platforms will have adverse effects on the automotive industry a McKinsey report states that there are some ways that automotive companies can reap the benefits of this new industry.

Recently launched startups in transportation and mobility

We split up the areas of innovation into the 8 different themes, reflecting Hyundai’s priorities and those that have the most potential to become pillars on which modern automobile technology and design are expected to be based.

Theme 1: Mobility and Logistics

We start with Mobility service technologies, micro mobility, intercommunication driving data analysis and last mile logistics. There is a lot of technology that is being embedded in cars in order to enhance the consumer experience. This ranges from mobile internet and the possible implementation of connecting vehicles with 5G, location-based recommendations, real-time satellite and road navigation and streaming services. There is also a future application of predictive maintenance where tech conducts a deep analysis of the car and its oil level, tire pressure and servicing requirements.

One example of a startup in the fleet management space that we identified through our research is Autofleet, a fleet management platform that can better manage mobility services. Their solutions enable a large vehicle fleet to maximize utilization and vehicle downtime. 

The connected vehicle space is a huge part of mobility and logistics. V2X Network is an autonomous vehicle-to-everything transaction program. They are on a mission to automate the entire process of in-vehicle transactions. The most important thing about their process is that they use standard communication and identification technology to create payment mechanism for connected vehicle systems.

With 5G coming into the auto industry and technological developments in the space of navigation, startupscan help automobile companies develop their in vehicle navigation systems. Barron Associates has a Vehicle “eco-routing” startups which means that instead of driving the fastest or shortest route between two locations, the startup helps the driver to choose the most energy-efficient route. Eco-routing operates at the macroscopic level to identify the most energy efficient route to a destination based on the specific vehicle and powertrain. Using coarse information about traffic congestion, grade, stop signs, school zones, charging opportunities, etc., it may be found that the shortest or fastest route is not the most energy efficient. Recent research found instances of 20% energy savings using eco-routing. In many cases, the travel time penalty was minimal. The most impressive eco-routing energy savings are based on a highly accurate vehicle and powertrain model. In order to generalize eco-routing technology for widespread use to include different vehicles and powertrains, it becomes extremely important to validate prediction models. Development of highly-accurate a priori powertrain models for every possible vehicle over every possible drive cycle is financially and logistically impossible. 

The research team proposes to utilize Machine Learning (ML) techniques to synthesize individualized models of energy consumption using on-vehicle data collected during real-world driving experience. The overall goal is to demonstrate the feasibility of using ML techniques to enable effective, energy-saving eco-routing without a priori detailed vehicle and powertrain models. This technology will enable the rapid, widespread adoption of eco-routing technology and facilitate significant energy savings with commensurate financial and environmental benefits. Effective, widespread eco-routing technology adoption could potentially save 10% or more of energy consumed by on-road vehicles with corresponding economic and environmental benefits.

Theme 2:  Eco Tech (EV, Ecomaterials, Upcycling, VVP)

With EV cars becoming more cost efficient and with the increasing importance of being an environmentally conscious corporation, the electric vehicle is more important than ever before. There are several startups that we have identified that could help Hyundai fully break into the EV space and gain an even bigger market share in that space.

An example of this type of development in the EV space is Deep Reach Technology, Inc. whose Seabed mining may be the best option to fill the impending gap in terrestrial supplies for nickel, cobalt, and rare earth elements, which are increasingly used to manufacture electric vehicles and large lithium-ion batteries. Deep Reach Technology plan on designing a novel nodule collector to minimize the impact of sediment plumes, which may disperse and cover the seabed beyond the mining area. The project uses augmented screening and seabed electrocoagulation to achieve this goal. 

Another EV start-up that would be an interesting addition to Hyundai is GetHenry an e-mobility platform, providing flexible access to electric vehicles for hotels, delivery services, and corporate campuses. It includes software and maintenance. The business model is a monthly subscription -  so customers pay a fee monthly or sign a long term exclusive contract.

A key component in a modern day EV cars success is the quality of the battery it operates on. The lithium-ion battery is one of the most centrally important technologies for the 21st century. However, transformative change to battery technology is required to meet the demanding performance required for massive adoption of electric vehicles. Vulcan Alloys Inc.’s nanocomposite foil (NCF) anode technology dramatically simplifies electrode manufacturing, increases battery energy density by 20-40%, and enables rapid charging at 5C (> 10 mA cm-2), providing the most significant material-level improvement to battery technology in more than a decade. NCF technology represents a highly practical yet previously unexplored approach to electrode design. The critical insight behind the framework stems from approaching electrode design with a metallurgical, rather than chemical, perspective. The largest technical risks were mitigated throughout years of academic development, culminating in experimental validation of the framework’s promise in a medium-scale prototype. Further development of this technology for the commercial sector would revolutionize battery chemistry at a critical juncture in the industry’s development. 

Vulcan Alloys, Inc. plans to manufacture high performance NCF anodes with varying compositions. Introduction of NCF anodes to the commercial marketplace would confer significant public benefits. The technology would reduce the cost and increase the range of electric vehicles, accelerating their adoption by the public. The high energy density NCF-batteries developed in this work can also enable new consumer electronic devices with improved performance and support the increasing penetration of renewables into our modern grid. Given the NCF framework is highly scalable and does not rely upon the traditional electrode manufacturing infrastructure, production facilities could be built domestically, providing the United States with an opportunity to gain control of a strategically important energy resource.

Theme 3: Materials

The materials that go into a car range from lithium batteries to cooling materials inside the car. They are extremely important feature in automobiles. As the software and engineering behind functionality improves so are the technologies and innovations behind the materials that go into cars.  A few examples of such innovations are:


The Advancement of the performance and reliability of power electronics utilizing wide bandgap materials has been identified as a key technical target by the US DRIVE partnership to meet 2025 roadmap targets established by the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO). While SiC-based technology has a significant head-start over GaN in terms of its technical maturity and is being ramped up for adoption, the superior materials properties of GaN should allow for higher performing and less costly power electronics for electric vehicle applications. Despite the superior materials properties, GaN power devices do not currently perform at their theoretical limit when considering devices operating at voltages >600V. In order to obtain GaN power devices that can meet GaN’s theoretical limit in higher voltage applications applicable to EVs, high crystallinity GaN drift layers must be grown on native (bulk) GaN substrates and a vertical device architecture must be adopted. In this work, Kyma Technologies will utilize an alternative growth technique, hydride vapor phase epitaxy, to satisfy the simultaneous needs of both very thick and lightly n- doped GaN required to realize high quality epilayers for high voltage (1.2kV and higher) vertical switching transistors. Kyma is partnered with Odyssey Semiconductor, who has demonstrated a novel approach to realizing selective p-GaN doping which has opened the door to realizing manufacturable and reliable high voltage GaN transistors. Odyssey will apply this technique to Kyma-grown films in Phase I and demonstrate vertical GaN transistors operating at 1.2kV with on-resistances better than equivalent SiC-based devices. In addition to EV applications, if high voltage vertical GaN switches were to become a reality, it could open the door to increased energy efficiency in other sectors which are reliant on Si-based power electronics such as industrial motor drives, PV inverters, and potentially inverters for wind turbines.

Another interesting startup in this space is STRUCTURED MATERIALS INDUSTRIES, INC. The efficiencies of Electric Vehicle (EV) and Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) need to be improved in order to reduce reliance on hydrocarbon fuel-based transportation systems and thus reduce CO2 emissions. For this to happen, high voltage onboard power electronics need to be greatly improved in terms of performance and cost. Currently, vehicle power electronics predominantly utilize silicon-based power semiconductors switch technology based on MOSFET, and IGBT devices. Silicon power semiconductor devices have several limitations including high losses relatively low bandgap, low electrical field breakdown requiring very thick material growth for high voltage operation which results in high resistance and associated conduction losses. GaN based devices are believed to be the best solution to this problem. The problem can be addressed by replacing silicon-based devices with the wide band gap (WBG) semiconductor (Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Gallium Nitride (GaN)) devices. The WBG d semiconductors devices are much more efficient (lower on resistance and higher frequency operation) and can withstand higher temperatures than Si components. Hence, devices made of WBG semiconductors could decrease system costs by reducing the requirements for complex thermal management systems. 

Theme 4: AI Analytics

AI is a key part of several industries now and AI analytics are an important function in innovating cars and bringing them to the next level of technological efficiency.

An interesting start that Equal Innovation recommends to join Hyundai’s portfolio is Innovative Defense Technologies.  The Navy needs a software architecture and digital system model capable of providing USW planners a comprehensive assessment of the cybersecurity posture of a geographically distributed network of disparate sensors communicating through paths fundamentally dependent on environmental factors. This digital system model will represent the cybersecurity posture of each category of USW sensor and platform, including surface combatants, unmanned vehicles, submarines, air vehicles, surveillance assets, expendables associated with these platforms, and the communication pathways between these geographically dispersed sensors and platforms.   Incorporation of this digital system model into USW-DSS will also allow theater commanders to include cybersecurity in mission planning, mission execution, and post-mission analysis and reduce engineering efforts to provide Objective Quality Evidence (OQE) for the system cybersecurity resiliency in operational environments.   As the search environment evolves, continuously collected cyber data feeds will be used to assess the impact of the current and forecasted cyber environment on individual sensors and weapon platforms to search for, detect, and track threat cyber risks and events both in-progress and predicted.  This assessment is presented by a new architecture, called Sea Cyber, to the ASW Commander enabling them to adapt around cyber-attacks or in making go/no-go decisions.  

Sea Cyber, a new architecture based on the existing ATRT Attack Vector Analysis (AVA) framework, delivers cross-platform cybersecurity posture analysis from “Chip to Ship” with Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Time Sensitive Targeting (TST) from an adversarial perspective.    The ATRT framework allows it to quickly adapt to any scenario or mission.   Sea Cyber provides a digital system model of actual and planned theater assets allowing designers to assess the cybersecurity implications of distributed and unmanned systems as they communicate and operate in the physical environment.  Sea Cyber ties big data from Internet-of-Things in Ocean into security analytics and drives towards an extensible centralized platform to effectively enable rapid analysis and detection for advanced security threats to the ASW mission.

As driving technologies are improving by the day and require a smaller amount of human intervention another key feature is automatic evaluations and running diagnostics of the car. Sea, Ltd. Has been making key innovations in that space.  SEA is developing a technical evaluation and feasibility study for a Test Data Interface that could send command signals to a vehicle via CAN, as well as receive diagnostic information from the  vehicle. This technology could be used to provide any number of vehicle test protocols, including the evaluation of advanced and autonomous driving features. SEA believes that a Test Data Interface will be a necessity in order to adequately provide the amount of real-life testing that advanced and autonomous vehicles will require. Driving millions of miles in simulation is only a qualifier to prepare the technology for real-life testing. Current test methods and equipment are a good start to evaluate L2 driving assistance, but the testing technology and equipment will need to evolve with the maturation of autonomous vehicles.

Theme 5: Vision AI 

Vision AI is a very important area for development because of the constant need to make improvements in camera based analysis systems, alarms and other technologies.

4D TECH SOLUTIONS, INC. is a company that we found that does great work in this space. 

4D will develop a high-resolution subsea light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensor and associated artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) algorithms to provide autonomous cable location and tracking, damage detection, examination, and precision location of damaged cable sections.  The light-weight LiDAR sensor will integrate micro-electo- mechanical systems (MEMS) mirror technology to scan pulsed laser light to map the seafloor and image objects located both on and above the seafloor.  The LiDAR scanner's high pulse repetition rate, rapid line scan rate, and narrow beam divergence will provide the 3D image fidelity needed to implement advanced behavioral decision making capabilities.  AI/ML algorithm optimization will be performed, thereby allowing each phase of the LDUUV mission to be performed seamlessly.

Another startup Spatial Integrated Systems, Inc that predominantly has used its technology on underwater vehicles has created a technology that could have great potential if added to and adjusted to Hyundai’s product.  Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV) and Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUV) are comprised of many sensors that allow the vehicle to operate without a driver and under sparse supervision. These sensors include Cameras, Inertial Measurement Units (IMU), and Radar. Degraded or faulty sensors can prevent the USV/UUV from navigating around the environment, detecting hazards, and monitoring the health/status of on-ship components. Spatial Integrated Systems, Inc (SIS), through its real world and laboratory experience in robotics, autonomy, and Unmanned Vehicles (UxV) proposes to solve this problem by analyzing, predicting, and triangulating in-stride sensor readings. The goal is to provide the capability to detect a faulty or degraded sensor, based on newly developed sensor degradation algorithms/ combinations of algorithms, then to select the best reaction behavior to mitigate the risk caused by the degraded or faulty sensor. Combining this system for managing reactions with the sensors used by the autonomy systems will result in a reduction of manual interventions during UxV operations. SIS possesses sophisticated processes to rapidly design, develop, and test the software and mechanical systems needed to establish market ready products. SIS also has the expertise and infrastructure in place to distribute and support this product in-house.

Theme 6: Interactive Components

Interactive components include 3D modelling, AR and VR technologies as well as hologram based solutions. With automobiles getting easier to drive and investing heavily to make driving easier these areas are great to develop technologies in.

Arete Associates is a startup, with a solution called RealSynth360, spun out of the Machine Learning for Artificial Intelligence (MLAI) Lab at the University of Arizona (UofA) to develop an interactive scenario building tool capable of generating realistic synthetic 360° videos in real-time for use in training simulators for periscope operators .  Their novel capability will be created by combining the latest advances in generative adversarial networks (GANs), the simulation capabilities of the Unreal Engine, and Areté’s experience in building periscope technologies.  Areté’s tiered-GAN approach is structured such that panoramic videos of dynamically created mission simulations can by reified in real-time across two processes.  The first tier is responsible for translating the simulated synthetic environmental backgrounds into realistic environmental backgrounds. 

Theme 7: Autonomous driving technologies

The future of automobiles is the autonomous vehicle where there is close to zero human intervention required. Hyundai has taken several steps and invested a lot of money in developing their autonomous technologies and potential partnerships with these startups will help them scale it to the next level.

MAPLESS AI, INC. aims to develop technology that will enable automated transportation systems to verifiably maintain safety without relying on a human driver as a fallback. 

Another startup in this particular space is SYSTEMS ENGINEERING ASSOCIATES CORPORATION.  They have developed systems for the US Navy that are also scalable, both in terms of physical size and capability. SEA CORP intends to utilize scaled CSA hardware and software toolkits to develop an EW system for use on unmanned platforms that detects, identifies, classifies, and enables autonomous reactions to encountered vessels. SEA CORP has many years of experience in design, development, testing, and integration of CSA EW systems on surface, subsurface, airborne, and autonomous platforms. Our experience and expertise give SEA CORP a high level of confidence in the success of the proposed solution to this SBIR topic.

Next Steps:

Even though Hyundai is a global leader in the automotive industry, it still needs access to emerging technologies, innovations and high-impact startups to maintain its leadership position.  Autonomous driving, electric vehicles and general mobility are rapidly changing, and large companies cannot simply rely on their in-house R&D capabilities to keep up.   Throughout the world, there is significant research being conducted about transportation and mobility – funded by government agencies interested in their applications for defense and infrastructure development.  It is expected that important legislation in the United States to rebuild the infrastructure will lead to fiber-optic highways, a push for autonomous and electric vehicles, and broad based sustainability solutions for the supply chain. 

Equal Innovation is uniquely suited to working with companies like Hyundai.  Scouting and innovation navigation are no longer about 1-1 matches between specific products and star researchers.  Equal Innovation can connect organizations to a broad set of innovations – from artificial intelligence to sustainability solutions and the latest in mobility.