Last year at the annual GPU conference, Elon Musk told his audience that making a self driving car that never goes more than 10 mph is easy. Making a self driving car that goes on the highway is almost as easy. Making a self driving car that travels between 10 and 50 mph in an urban environment, with intersections, traffic lights, pedestrians and bicyclists darting every which way is hard. Really hard.
Tesla uses a NVIDIA 1.4-gigahertz Tegra 3 quad-core processor to power its infotainment system and central touchscreen. But that is a pygmy in terms of computing power compared to the new NVIDIA Drive PX2 the company says will power the fast approaching world of self driving cars. NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang told a rapt audience at the Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday that to handle the challenges of an urban environment, cars will need enough onboard computing power to operate autonomously without access to the cloud.
That will take a device like the NVIDIA Drive PX2, a veritable supercomputer the size of a lunchbox with 12 CPU cores supporting a combined eight teraflops and 24 deep learning tera operations per second. It’s also liquid cooled so its sensitive electronics don’t overheat. With the computing power of 150 MacBook Pro computers, Huang says it will be able to process input from “12 video cameras, plus lidar, radar and ultrasonic sensors.”
NVIDIA is already testing its own self driving cars and claims to have made enormous progress in just the past few months. Its system can now detect other cars even in snowy conditions and can translate German highway signs “better than a human,” says Huang. Mercedes, Ford and BMW — as well as Tesla, of course — are all using NVIDIA technology in their own autonomous driving vehicles.
According to Gizmodo, Volvo has just announced that it will be the first car maker to use the Drive PX2 computer in its test fleet of self driving cars, starting next year. “Our vision is that no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by the year 2020,” explains Marcus Rothoff, Volvo’s director of the Autonomous Driving Program. “NVIDIA’s high-performance and responsive automotive platform is an important step towards our vision and perfect for our autonomous drive program and the Drive Me project.”
With computing power like the NVIDIA Drive PX2 available, Elon Musk says that someday, humans will be prohibited from driving cars because they will be considered too dangerous. He thinks soon autonomous cars will be as common as elevators. “And about as fun to operate, too,” says the car enthusiast within me.