Nvidia is looking to add computer chips to cars

Nvidia is looking to add computer chips to cars

Silicon Valley-based Nvidia, a global leader in artificial intelligence hardware and software, is set to release a powerful new processor called the Drive Thor in 2024. Nvidia believes it could revolutionize the electric car industry and lead the way to self-driving vehicles. Fully just in time for the 2025 EV lineup.

Self-driving

“You will definitely rise to the level of full autonomy,” Nvidia Vice President of Automotive Danny Shapiro said at a press conference September 19 at the Nvidia GTC Conference. Full autonomy could refer to level 4 on the self-driving scale where the driver is located, but pay no attention to the road or level 5 where both the steering wheels and the drivers are optional, and therefore unnecessary, since the car is completely autonomous.

Shapiro explained that the Thor processor is based on Nvidia’s new Hopper GPU that accelerates powerful AI technology referred to as switches. Thor’s use of Hopper is to dramatically improve the handling of AI programs used in self-driving cars.

The first automaker to sign up to take over Thor is Chinese premium electric car maker Zeekr, a company that started only last year.

Combine and simplify systems

In addition to autonomous AI for autonomous driving, Thor is designed to integrate into one system several smaller processors that handle the operation of things like navigation, autonomous parking, braking, door locks, engine control, and entertainment. Currently, many electric car manufacturers use different systems from different vendors.

“If we look at today’s car, the advanced driver assistance systems, parking, driver monitoring, camera mirrors, digital instrument cluster, and infotainment are all different computers distributed throughout the vehicle,” Shapiro said. “In 2025, these functions will no longer be separate computers. Instead, Drive Thor will enable manufacturers to efficiently integrate these functions into a single system, reducing the overall cost of the system.”

Nvidia had initially planned a chip called Atlan for a 2024 release, but it was scrapped when Thor hit the scene handling 2 quadrillion operations per second, or twice what Atlan could do and eight times what the previous Orin chip from Atlan could.

Once the Thor is in full production, it is expected to be sold by Nvidia in various configurations, not all with top-of-the-line self-driving capabilities. Simpler and lower versions of the Thor can be sold to handle more driver assistance technologies, such as lane keeping, etc.

Industry pressure

The car chip producer community continues to feel pressure from the strained global supply chain caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Not to mention strong demand from auto industry customers who are looking for more ways to use semiconductor chips to lower production costs and/or offer more choices to car buyers.

The long and extended supply chain disaster has also led to fundamental changes in the relationship between auto manufacturers and chip suppliers. EV and other automakers are now looking to make significant capital investments in chip producers in exchange for a long-term turnkey supply.

Before the pandemic, chip producers found that auto-manufacturing customers had little guts to invest in chips to secure supply. But like many other things, chip shortages have reshaped the industry by slowing manufacturers’ ability to reap revenue from hungry car buyers.

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