Chipmaker Nvidia sees big increase in autos using its processors

Danny Shapiro: "The hardware [for autonomous cars] already exists. Now it's all about creating the software."
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U.S. chipmaker Nvidia expects to have its processors in 25 million new cars within a few years, up from a little more than 4.5 million vehicles now. One car with Nvidia’s technology that is getting a lot of attention is the new Audi TT. The TT’s 12.3-inch, high-resolution display benefits from Nvidia quad-core chip, which is capable of executing 8 billion operations per second. Danny Shapiro, Nvidia’s automotive division head, spoke to Automotive News Europe Correspondent Andrea Fiorello about what’s next for the California-based company.

The new Audi TT has a large Thin Film Transistor (TFT) monitor that delivers a sophisticated combination of gauges, navigation and infotainment data with 3-D graphics. How has all this been achieved?

The TT’s monitor is powered by two Nvidia Tegra K1 mobile processors. This new chip is built on the same graphics architecture as that used in the world’s most extreme gaming PCs and the fastest supercomputer in the United States. It also achieves substantial reductions in heat dissipation and weight. The result is a microprocessor that brings console-class gaming graphics and performance to mobile devices. The TT actually has two autonomous processors working together, running a variety of applications at the same time and presenting the information on the same screen. As well as infotainment and navigation they can be connected to cameras, laser scanners and radar to detect pedestrians and “blind spot” objects.

Which automakers do you supply?

We started with high-end Audis, Lamborghinis, BMWs and Rolls-Royces and at the moment there are a little more than 4.5 million cars on the road fitted with Nvidia processors. At this year’s Geneva auto show vehicles featuring Nvidia in-vehicle technology included the Lamborghini Huracan, VW Golf GTE, BMW i8, Rolls-Royce Ghost and Wraith, and Bentley Mulsanne and Flying Spur. Now we’re moving into more entry-level vehicles and there will be announcements later this year of links with some mainstream Japanese manufacturers. Based on our contract signings for future developments, we expect to see our processors installed in a further 25 million vehicles over the next few years.

What’s your connection with the Open Automotive Alliance?

The Open Automotive Alliance is a group of automakers and hi-tech companies that share a vision of making technology in the car safer and more intuitive. The Alliance is also trying to create a standard system. Our role in the alliance is that of a technology provider.

Will automakers eventually opt for just one or two operating systems?

We’re already seeing that happening, with Apple presenting its CarPlay interface and Google taking a similar approach. They both enable appropriate smartphone apps to be displayed within the vehicle that interact with the operating system.

Are software updates a major problem for in-car systems?

Carmakers are aware of the challenge and they’re asking us to provide processors capable of supporting more powerful software that doesn’t even exist yet. The solution is to distribute updates using a mobile phone connection, in exactly the same way that app developers do now.

Will we see more frequent, maybe Over The Air (OTA) updates for in-car software and apps?

You read of Toyota recalling 1.3 million Prius cars for a software update -- imagine if you could do it simply by send¬ing an OTA update. I’m sure customers would appreciate it if you could fix an issue without asking them to spend time making an appointment to visit a dealership. They might even forgive the fact that there’s a problem.

So OTA updates will also be used for safety aspects of the car’s software?

Tesla is already doing it. They had a couple of fires where customers ran over large objects with their cars and damaged the battery pack under the vehicle. Tesla sent an OTA update that raised the air suspensions slightly, giving greater ground clearance at high speeds and reducing the risk.

Carmakers say the autonomous car will be ready by 2020. Is this something you are working on with Google and how is this progressing?

While we’re not allowed to detail our cooperation with Google, I can say that the hardware already exists. Now it’s all about creating the software. Sensing is easy, the difficult part is the decision making process, the equivalent of what goes on in our brains when we drive. That requires even more computing power and algorithms that understand the external world. This task is made much easier by vehicle-to-vehicle communication. We need to invest in developing this.

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