Nvidia launches Drive – the computer self-driving cars have been crying out for
Having conquered the high-end computer graphics and mobile markets, Nvidia has decided to take on the self-driving car market with its new Drive automotive computers.
The technology, which was launched at CES 2015 in Las Vegas, is the computing equivalent of a V12 for self-driving vehicles, and potentially the technology that could guide autonomous cars to the mass market.
The company will offer two computers under the Drive brand – Drive PX for auto-pilot capabilities and Drive CX for digital cockpit systems.
The Drive CX builds on Nvidia’s longstanding experience in the GPU market and, according to the company, uses “the newest graphics processing architecture to deliver high frame-rate, photorealistic graphics” for applications including in 3D maps, landmarks and next-gen human-machine interfaces.
The Drive PX, meanwhile, adapts the company’s mobile computing technology for autonomous vehicles. It sports two of the company’s newly announced “super chip” Tegra X1 processors, the first mobile chip to offer over a teraflop of processing power, giving the Drive PX 2.3 teraflops total capacity.
The computer uses the Tegra X1 to handle up to 1.3 gigapixel/second throughput from 12 two-megapixel cameras situated around the car, at frame rates of up to 60 fps.
The image processing technology in the Drive PX will be used by the car to build a map of its surroundings on the fly, enabling it to auto-park and also detect other vehicles on the road by typem make and model. It can then relay this information to the driver as well as using the data itself to avoid obstacles and possible collisions.
According to Nvidia, this will enable a “smarter, more sophisticated advanced driver system and [pave] the way for the autonomous car”.
“We see a future of autonomous cars, robots and drones that see and learn, with seeming intelligence that is hard to imagine,” said Huang.
“They will make possible safer driving, more secure cities and great conveniences for all of us [and] the Tegra X1 mobile super chip … is a giant step into this revolution,” he added.
Nvidia Drive is a massive step forward in the self-driving car market, and also a massive challenge to Google’s self driving project.
Like Nokia’s HERE subsidiary, Nvidia is working with car makers to bring autonomous vehicles to the mass market – indeed, Audi’s executive VP for electronic development, Ricky Huddi, joined Nvidia’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang on stage at CES to launch the Drive range. By doing this, both HERE and Nvidia are making use of existing brand recognition in the automotive market to bring their technology to consumers.
Google, on the other hand, decided to strike out on its own and, while the company obviously has good international brand recognition, it’s for internet services, rather than automotive. There’s still a certain cachet around owning an Audi or BMW – in comparison, Google’s self driving cars seem more cartoonish than high-tech.
Additionally, the discrete camera technology builds on in-car systems drivers are already familiar with. Many cars already have rear cameras for reversing, which show on the dashboard what’s below their line of sight, enabling the driver to avoid collisions.
In short, we think Nvidia is onto a winner.