Nvidia to equip self-driving cars with water-cooled 'supercomputer'

The Drive PX 2 will help self-driving cars recognize objects and signs, and be contextually and location aware

If Nvidia's new "supercomputer for cars" called Drive PX 2 works as promised, self-driving cars won't fall into a lot of trouble with the police.

The water-cooled computer, introduced at CES on Monday, will go into a trunk and help self-driving cars better recognize signs, lanes and objects. The computer throws a lot of computational horsepower to process images based on which vehicles can analyze on-road situations and take action.

For example, the Drive PX 2 can help cars slow down by recognizing traffic lights and speed limit signs. Cars will also be able to detect pedestrians and cross-walks. In a demonstration, Nvidia showed the Drive PX 2 recognizing vehicle types, bicycles and other objects on the road.

Beyond recognizing objects, the Drive PX 2 can train a car for location and contextual awareness. Cars over time will become experts  at dealing with different situations in various locations. The training algorithms of a car can be sent to the cloud for deployment in other vehicles.

Self-parking cars have developed over time with high-resolution cameras and ultrasonic technology, but self-driving cars require gathering data from more sensors. The Drive PX 2 will be able to process information from multiple high-resolution cameras, GPS, radar, lidar and other data-gathering components in a car.

Right now the focus of PX 2 is to detect and recognize objects, but Nvidia wants self-driving cars to also recognize circumstances. For example, a self-driving car may be able to distinguish an ambulance from a truck, and slow down. A car may also recognize snowy conditions and operate on a road in which the lanes are hidden. But such learning patterns are complex, and it could be a while until self-driving cars can handle such situations.

The Drive PX 2 has 12 CPU cores, offers 8 teraflops of floating-point performance, has two Pascal GPUs and draws 250 watts. It is the equivalent of "150 MacBook Pros in your trunk," said Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia's CEO, during the press conference at CES.

It succeeds the Drive PX, which was introduced last year and delivered a performance of 2.3 teraflops.

The Drive PX 2 is much smaller than other computers in the trunks of self-driving cars, Huang said.

The first car company to deploy Drive PX 2 will be Volvo, which will use it in a few 100 cars, Huang said. Nvidia already works with top car makers like Ford, Audi and BMW on various in-car technologies.

The Drive PX 2 will ship to a few partners in the second quarter this year, and will become generally available in the fourth quarter of 2016.

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