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Nvidia launches AI computer to give autonomous robots better brains

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New Jetson Xavier hardware will make it easier for companies to develop robots that navigate the real world

Nvidia’s chips will be used to power autonomous robots like the one above, which guides customers around Lowe’s stores.
Image: Lowe’s

Chip designer Nvidia has been an integral part of the recent AI renaissance, providing the processors that power much of the field’s research and development. Now, it’s looking to the future. At Computex 2018, it unveiled two new products: Nvidia Isaac, a new developer platform, and the Jetson Xavier, an AI computer, both built to power autonomous robots.

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said Isaac and Jetson Xavier were designed to capture the next stage of AI innovation as it moves from software running in the cloud to robots that navigate the real world. “AI, in combination with sensors and actuators, will be the brain of a new generation of autonomous machines,” said Huang. “Someday, there will be billions of intelligent machines in manufacturing, home delivery, warehouse logistics and much more.”

The Isaac platform is a set of software tools that will make it simpler for companies to develop and train robots. It includes a collection of APIs to connect to 3D cameras and sensors; a library of AI accelerators to keep algorithms running smoothly and without lag; and a new simulation environment, Isaac Sim, for training and testing bots in a virtual space. Doing so is quicker and safer than IRL testing, but it can’t match the complexity of the real world.

The Jetson Xavier chipboard (center) and covered developer kit (right).
Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge

But the heart of the Isaac platform is Nvidia’s new Jetson Xavier computer, an incredibly compact piece of hardware that’s comprised of a number of processing components. These include a Volta Tensor Core GPU, an eight-core ARM64 CPU, two NVDLA deep learning accelerators, and processors for static images and video. In total, Jetson Xavier contains more than 9 billion transistors and delivers over 30 TOPS (trillion operations per second) of compute. And it consumes just 30 watts of power, which is half of the electricity used by the average light bulb.

The cost of one Jetson Xavier (along with access to the Isaac platform) is $1,299, and Huang claims the computer provides the same processing power as a $10,000 workstation. This comparison is not that meaningful without knowing exactly what chips the Jetson Xavier is being compared with, but it’s undeniable that this hardware offers a lot of power for a reasonable price.

The really interesting thing, of course, is not Nvidia’s hardware, but what developers will do with it. AI-powered robots are becoming more common; early use cases include security, food delivery, and inventory management in retail stores. Nvidia’s chips are already used to power robots made by a company called Fellow, which are being trialed by Lowe’s. The AI robot revolution is just beginning.