Nvidia's next target platform: your car

The company introduces a hefty Tegra chip specifically designed for cars.

Nvidia's efforts in the mobile space have been mixed. It has run behind Qualcomm despite its top-flight GPU technology, although it's had a few big wins, like the Motorola Droid X2. Now, the company is eyeing a new market, one where power draw and heat aren't such an obsession: cars.

The company unveiled its Drive CX and Drive PX platforms at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. Drive CX is aimed at in-car entertainment systems, while PX is for self-driving cars. Drive PX board comes with two Tegra X1 processors, both quad-core ARM CPUs and using company's new Maxwell GPU technology to offer 2.3 teraflops of power for a vehicle. It can connect 12 cameras recording at 4K resolution and 30 frames per second, which will make for some highly accurate backup cameras, among other things.

In fact, the company says this platform's "neural network" will be able to discern pedestrians, bicyclists and autos much more clearly than other systems, and enables the system to separate and identify cars based on make as well.

During the keynote, CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said right now, cars use radar, ultrasonic sensors and image-recognition technologies. These aren't as accurate as high-resolution image recognition. The Drive CX platform can power 12 cameras at 2 megapixel resolution. It will also power in-car entertainment systems, and the company said it will offer voice recognition but didn't get into details on that.

To get self-driving cars working, they need accurate sensors, because right now they are not there yet. MIT Technology Review has noted that despite 700,000 hours of testing, Google's self-driving cars still don't recognize new obstacles like a new stoplight, cannot handle snow, heavy rain, open parking lots, multilevel parking garages and construction zones, and the sensors are blinded when the sun is directly behind a traffic light.

As part of the demo, Nvidia showed off a Drive CX car work its way into a parking garage and self-park in an open parking space. Of course, it was a virtual demo, but they are working on the real thing as well.

And since it's in a car, they can crank the SOC as high as needed since battery life isn't an issue, nor is a tight thermal space.

They are also talking about powering displays with high resolution graphics, which would be welcome. My 2012 Camry has an in-dash display system that looks like my old Apple ][e from the 1980s. I've looked in other cars, and other than the Tesla, none have particularly impressive displays.

The company didn't give a release date for Drive CX or Drive PX.

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