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Toyota is using Nvidia’s supercomputer to bring autonomous driving to the masses

Toyota is using Nvidia’s supercomputer to bring autonomous driving to the masses

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Toyota has tapped Nvidia to help it bring self-driving tech to people — and roads — in just a few years.

The automaker will use Nvidia’s Drive PX supercomputer, a platform with a robust new processor called Xavier, to power the autonomous driving systems inside its future cars, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang announced Wednesday at the GTC Conference in San Jose, California.

These production vehicles are slated to hit the marketplace in a few years, which means that by 2020, there should be Toyota cars equipped with a system that will allow them to drive autonomously.

Toyota’s plans for development are fuzzy

The partnership is the latest effort by Nvidia to leverage computing power to apply artificial intelligence to a variety of products, including the car and the home.

There are some important details missing in the announcement. Toyota nor Nvidia said which cars will have the system. And Toyota’s plans for deployment are also fuzzy. 

Toyota has been pursuing a dual path to autonomous vehicles. It has a long-term goal of developing fully autonomous cars that would serve elderly and disabled people. But it’s also working on tech for regular production cars that could switch between assisting the driver to full autonomy. Toyota’s so-called “guardian angel” would operate silently in the background and could step in and take control of the car to avoid an accident. 

It appears the Nvidia system would be used for this production vehicle guardian angel approach. But it won’t be clear until Toyota offers up more details about its plans. 

Still, Toyota’s partnership is notable, and not just because it’s one of the largest automakers in the world. Unlike other, earlier partnerships that used Drive PX in development of self-driving systems, Toyota wants to use Nvidia’s tech in production cars. 

“We’re now seeing a new era in computing we call the era of AI.”

Nvidia began working on autonomous vehicles several years ago and has racked up partnerships with dozens of automakers and suppliers racing to develop self-driving cars, including Chinese search engine giant Baidu, Audi, Tesla, and Volvo.

Nvidia’s original architecture for self-driving cars, introduced in 2015, is a supercomputer platform called Drive PX that can process all of the data coming from the vehicle’s cameras and sensors. The platform then uses an AI algorithm-based operating system and a cloud-based, high-definition 3D map to help the car understand its environment, know its location, and anticipate potential hazards while driving. The system’s software can be updated over the air — similar to how a smartphone’s operating system is updated — making the car become smarter over time.

A more powerful next-generation computer called Drive PX 2 — along with a suite of software tools and libraries aimed at speeding up the deployment of self-driving vehicles — followed in 2016.

Nvidia has continued to push its tech further with the introduction last year of Xavier, a complete system-on-a-chip processor that is essentially an AI brain for self-driving cars. Xavier was introduced in September, but until today little was known about what its guts look like.

Inside the Xavier processor, which can deliver 30 trillion deep learning operations per second and only use 30 watts of power, is a brand-new architecture that Nvidia has dubbed Volta. Nvidia believes Volta is the secret and speedy sauce needed to unlock the power of artificial intelligence. The Xavier processor will be available later this year.

"With the advent of deep learning and the breakthroughs there, we’re now seeing a new era in computing we call the era of AI,” Huang said during his keynote. "Volta is the next generation, the next giant leap into that new world."