There will come a point in the future when cars driven by machines will be safer for the country than cars driven by people. Can you imagine a world where drivers are rested and relaxed? There will be no more concerns about drivers being stressed or under the influence. This is a primary concern for drivers in Korea’s heavy drinking culture. South Korea’s biggest messenger giant Kakao is developing self-driving car technology through Kakao Mobility. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done, but the outlook for self-driving cars in Korea looks promising.

Kakao, which started as a text messaging app, has grown into an internet giant. Five years ago, they launched their Kakao Taxi service and a navigation service called Kakao Navi. In addition, Kakao has also launched Kakao Driver, Kakao Bus, and Kakao Subway. Over the last five years, they have been very aggressive in extending their online-to-offline services. Kakao Taxi has been the most successful service, with over 30 million subscribers. Almost all taxi drivers in Korea and cab-hailing startups use Kakao Taxi. Therefore Kakao Mobility has over 80% share of Korea’s taxi-hailing market. With their success with Kakao Taxi, Kakao seems to be aiming higher, with bigger goals. The biggest goal would be to dominate the self-driving technology industry in Korea through Kakao Mobility.

Self-Driving Cars in Korea with Kakao Mobility

Self Driving Cars in Korea

Kakao is leading the self-driving car market and the largest Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) in South Korea. They have the resources and the talent to bring self-driving cars to Korea’s streets. One of their partners is one of Korea’s top telecom operators KT Corp. whom Kakao is working to create a mobility platform. The mobility platform is used for connected car platforms and business-to-consumer services such as car-sharing. Therefore, hailing, riding, getting off, and paying, can all be commercialized in real-time. Since KT has been testing 5G technology, they will play a vital role in Kakao Mobilities’ development of autonomous driving technology.

Massive Investments into Kakao Mobility

Kakao Mobility is attracting massive investments. Global investment firm The Carlyle Group invested $200 million in Kakao Mobility in early 2021. In addition, they will partner with Carlyle Group to work with various global companies in the mobility industry. Moreover, a few months later, Google made a strategic investment of $50 million into Kakao Mobility. This makes Kakao Mobility’s value well over $3 billion.

Kakao Mobility – Approved for Level 4 Autonomous Vehicles

Kakako Mobility self-driving cars in Korea

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport approved permits for Level 4 autonomous vehicle testing by Kakao Mobility in 2020. The permit would last for five years. Therefore Kakao can test their vehicles without the driver’s intervention. It is not a fully self-driving test because the driver is still in the car while the test is occurring. Furthermore, the tests need to be conducted in certain designated areas. However, level 4 testing is a huge step and will lead to level 5 autonomous vehicle testing sometime in 2025.

Kakao mobility has been actively collaborating with various partners in Korea, such as mobility startups, car manufacturers, and organizations related to autonomous driving to advance its commercialization. Furthermore, there are talks that Kakao will partner with Google and Tesla for autonomous driving technology and co-marketing opportunities. Kakao Mobility plans to go public at some point in 2021. Kakao Mobility has raised over $450 million in funding and has a current valuation of $1.3 billion.

Self-Driving Hub in South Korea – Sejong City

The self-driving hub in South Korea is located in Sejong City. This is where riders can test out Kakao Mobility’s self-driving car technology by reserving through a mobile app. The self-driving car works more like a shuttle bus than a taxi. Sejong City has designated stops where riders can be picked up and dropped off. Most riders are government workers and residents within Sejong city. A maximum of two riders can ride in the car, and each vehicle will still have a human driver in an emergency.