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Uber, Volkswagen bring NVIDIA on board for 360 driverless car vision

The chipmaker also released an SDK for building AI-enabled applications such as facial recognition.

By Sabrina Dougall

NVIDIA is proving its technology is indispensable in the AI self-driving car sector as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018 kicks off this week.

In a new tie-up, Volkswagen and Uber will leverage the chipmaker’s graphics processors to step up a gear in driverless vehicle visual capabilities.

Announcing the partnership in Las Vegas on Sunday, Uber and Volkswagen said NVIDIA’s artificial intelligence-powered chips will create a cockpit-style experience and increase passenger safety. The NVIDIA DRIVE IX platform will power the I.D. Buzz electric vehicle, a revamped version of the VW MicroBus.

NVIDIA’s AI chip will run so-called “co-pilot” applications, making smart judgement calls to up convenience for human passengers. The smart vehicle will process sensor data from inside and outside of the car, using deep learning to optimise decision-making. It is thought that the increase of input data over driving time will improve safety as the computing system reacts to each potential hazard.


The interior of Volkswagen’s new I.D. Buzz model, set for release in 2020.

Software updates will be automatically downloaded, potentially adding new capabilities over the lifetime of the vehicle.

“NVIDIA is not just at the forefront of developing GPUs and cloud computing, but is also the market leader for AI computing in cars,” said Roger Lanctot, director at Strategy Analytics. “The combination of NVIDIA and Volkswagen has the potential to bring this level of AI capability to everyone.

Alongside this, the chipmaker announced its NVIDIA DRIVE IX Intelligent Experience platform, an SDK for building AI-enabled apps such as a face-scan programme to unlock the car, surround perception and 3D mapping to detect physical hazards, natural language understanding for voice commands and gaze tracking for driver distraction detection.

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“Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the car,” said Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess.

“Autonomous driving, zero-emission mobility and digital networking are virtually impossible without advances in AI and deep learning. Combining the imagination of Volkswagen with NVIDIA, the leader in AI technology, enables us to take a big step into the future.”

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NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang told CES 2018 attendees that “every new vehicle” will have AI assistants for voice, gesture and facial recognition as well as augmented reality capability “in just a few years”.

Huang said: “Together, we are building a new generation of cars that are safer, more enjoyable to ride in than anything that has come before, and accessible to everyone.”

Volkswagen intends to launch autonomous vehicles from 2020, and release a fleet of 20 electric vehicles by 2025.

Uber has been using NVIDIA chips since it bought a test fleet of Volvo SC90 SUVS in 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Phoenix, Arizona. The taxi-hailing firm’s driverless car venture was rocked in February 2017 when Google-sibling Waymo accused Uber of stealing trade secrets.

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