Nvidia’s latest self-driving car computer promises elusive ‘Level 5’ autonomy

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang at CES earlier this year.
Image: Getty Images

Nvidia wants to make it easier for automotive companies to build self-driving cars, so it’s releasing  a brand new supercomputer designed to drive them.

The chipmaker claims its new supercomputer is the world’s first artificial intelligence computer designed for “Level 5” autonomy, which means vehicles that can operate themselves without any human intervention. 

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang unveiled the new automotive computing platform at the GPU Technology Conference in Munich. 

The new computer will be part of Nvidia’s existing Drive PX platform, which the GPU-maker offers to automotive companies in order to provide the processing power for their self-driving car systems. Pegasus could be a huge breakthrough for Nvidia and its 25-plus partners.

The company claims the new computer, which is about the size of a license plate, offers more power than current prototype systems that are so large they typically fill up a car’s entire trunk. 

Pegasus will purportedly be able to handle more than 320 trillion operations per second, which Nvidia says is 10 times more powerful than its previous computer and comparable to the AI performance of a 100-server data center.  

The new Drive PX Pegasus computing platform.

Image: nvidia

Huang announced Nvidia will soon release a new software development kit (SDK), Drive IX, that will help developers to build new AI-partner programs to improve in-car experience. 

Nvidia will also partner with Deutsche Post DHL and automotive supplier ZF on a test fleet of electric delivery trucks in Europe, slated to hit the roads in 2018. The company’s chips will provide the processing power for the vehicles, which will be used to learn more about the logistics systems needed for unmanned deliveries.    

Image: nvidia

The announcements are just the latest moves in Nvidia’s aggressive strategy to help build the world’s first true self-driving cars. The company has been making chips for cars since 2015, and its Drive PX platform is widely used throughout the automotive industry. 

Nvidia has since partnered with top companies like Mercedes-Benz, Audi, PACCAR, and Bosch, and it’s a key member of Baidu’s Apollo project, which aims to provide open source access to companies developing self-driving systems around the world.  

Nvidia’s lofty claims about Pegasus being the first system capable of Level 5 autonomy will likely be contested by others in the self-driving development race. Tesla, for one, has stated that all of the cars it has produced since last October will be capable of Level 5 autonomy once its software catches up. Those claims might have been overblown — and Tesla has used Nvidia’s chips in its cars, too, further complicating the matter. 

Waymo, the company with arguably the most advanced system on the roads, uses specially developed chips it created with Intel. The Google spin-off is also aiming for Level 5 autonomy — but it hasn’t made the same outsized claims as Tesla or Nvidia about its capabilities. Waymo’s restraint is a good model for other companies. Until we actually see a car that’s capable of driving itself on the road, bragging about being the first to offer Level 5 doesn’t mean anything.  

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Tags: artificial-intelligence autonomous-vehicles nvidia self-driving-cars tech transportation

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