Computing giant NVIDIA took to its CES 2018 pre-event to announce that it will be working closely with self-driving startup Aurora on future iterations of its hardware and software, leveraging its DRIVE Xavier system-on-chip to allow Aurora to build powerful platforms that will compete with industry leaders like Alphabet in the near future. Aurora’s plan is to use the raw processing power of the DRIVE Xavier platform, touted by NVIDIA as the most powerful computing SoC of any kind currently on the market, to build systems capable of running the kind of high-level AI required for a fully autonomous vehicle right on board, with processing grunt to spare. Aurora, a startup created last year by top field talent including Alphabet alumni Chris Urmson, has not yet revealed much information about the specific workings of its self-driving systems, but the company is reportedly working closely with automakers to integrate its systems into new vehicles.
NVIDIA’s partnership with Aurora is far from the only one of its sort, and not even the only one announced today; the company will also be working with Uber on self-driving cars. A collaboration with Volkswagen is also in NVIDIA’s wheelhouse, but there have thus far been no consumer-facing products utilizing NVIDIA’s extremely powerful platforms. The DRIVE Xavier chipset that will be granted to Aurora is NVIDIA’s latest and greatest, announced at the same conference as these collaborations. The new system cost NVIDIA around $2 billion in research and development costs, and is built specifically for the purpose of creating and deploying self-driving AI programs that are capable of matching and surpassing human drivers in all-around awareness, driving skill, and decision making. It is NVIDIA’s most powerful hardware to date, powered by an 8-core CPU, along with a 512-core GPU and specialized accelerators for computer vision and 8K HDR video. This all adds up to 30 trillion operations per second on only 30 watts of power, meaning that the system’s energy efficiency beats the previous generation 15 times over.
NVIDIA is working hard to secure its place in the self-driving market as a leading provider of third-party platforms for companies to build their driverless systems on. NVIDIA founder Jensen Huang said as much at the company’s latest conference, claiming that Aurora is exactly the sort of company that DRIVE Xavier was built for. NVIDIA is setting itself apart by virtue of the raw processing power its offerings have in store, drawing on its heritage in building powerful GPUs for PC gaming. These GPUs have always used specialized architectures to optimize massive numbers of cores, and the company’s current range of self-driving AI system platforms work on the same principles, but with vastly higher power, among other advantages. NVIDIA’s new DRIVE Xavier SoC is the greatest example of that to date and has a record-breakingly powerful CPU, GPU, and specialized processors, all tightly integrated and built around a specialized software stack.