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Nvidia had a strong displaying overall at CES this year, but its most outstanding demo had to be the self-driving vehicles it was showcasing off in a cordoned course built in a parking lot. The demo wasn’t on city streets, as were others like the Delphi rail, but it was extraordinaire in a different way; mostly because no human sat in the driver’s seat of Nvidia’s cars.
Two cars were in rotation for Nvidia at its test track. The very first is a Lincoln MKZ Nvidia purchased kitted with sensors ready for autonomous driving off the shelf from a third-party supplier that retrofits the vehicles specifically for this purpose, affectionately nicknamed ‘BB8.’ BB8 has been in testing with Nvidia for some time now, and is the company’s core vehicle for building out its neural network-based autonomous drive software.
The 2nd was an Audi Q7, freshly tooled with Nvidia’s DRIVE PX two in-car computer, which offers tremendous computing power in a very puny package, and is suitable for treating the hefty task of running a locally contained neural net that learns how to drive simply by observing the activity of human drivers; these vehicles were trained in Vegas on only four days of driving, Nvidia’s Senior Director of Automotive Danny Shapiro told me. That means they gained their capability not by being told specifically the rules of the road, but by observing four days worth of driving behavior by humans, and then inferring rules from the behavior they observed.
Nvidia’s Drive PX two in-car supercomputer
Audi says it was super-impressed with what Nvidia could accomplish in such a brief time, and in fact the Q7 is using only data from its front-facing camera combined with the PX two to accomplish this test rail. We sat in back while the car went around the track, with no one behind the wheel, and it did indeed perform flawlessly. Nvidia simulated a number of different road types, including turf, track and mess, and even created an on-demand road hazard with a movable construction detour, and neither vehicle had any issues with that.
Other demos of autonomous vehicles at CES were hands-free, but Nvidia’s was the only one I spotted that was driver-free. Even on a closed course, that’s extraordinaire, especially given the limited sensor input used. All the more reason to get excited about Nvidia’s plan to actually bring a self-driving AI-powered vehicle to market with Audi by 2020.