LAS VEGAS -- Volvo needed potent computers to steer the 100 self-driving cars that it plans to send onto the roads of its hometown of Gothenberg, Sweden, in 2017.
For the high-profile “Drive Me” project, a key step of Volvo’s goal of eliminating fatalities in its cars by 2020, the automaker turned to Nvidia Corp., the Silicon Valley chipmaker said Monday night as it unveiled the latest version of its autonomous driving supercomputer here at the CES technology conference.
Volvo’s decision to use the computer from Nvidia, best known for building high-powered graphics cars for video gaming, shows the staggering amount of processing power that may be necessary to guide self-driving cars as they encounter combinations of obstacles that no other car has ever encountered before.
Nvidia says its water-cooled, lunchbox-sized supercomputer, called the Drive PX 2, packs the power of 150 MacBook Pro laptops from Apple Inc. During a presentation, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said that in a matter of days, the Drive PX 2 can be trained using “deep learning” techniques to identify objects more effectively than software written by human programmers over the course of years.
It was designed as an upgrade from the first-generation Drive PX, which has been used in testing by 50 automakers, suppliers, software developers and research institutions since its unveiling a year ago. Companies using Nvidia’s computer for testing include Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Ford and Toyota.
Some pioneers of self-driving cars, such as Google, envision self-driving cars as driverless pods. Others, like Toyota, think car and driver should remain teammates. Either approach needs a powerful computer like Nvidia’s, Huang said.
“In both of these cases,” he said, “the computing capability needed is far greater than anything that’s currently available.”