NVIDIA's new Level 5 self-driving car chip will make steering wheels a thing of the past

October 11, 2017

Computer hardware company NVIDIA has just released its first self-driving car-bound artificial intelligence computer, called NVIDIA Drive PX Pegasus. According to the company, it is capable of Level 5 autonomy — which means it can power a self-driving car with such competence that there won’t even be a need for a steering wheel, pedals, or any sort of human oversight.

In the overall landscape of self-driving cars, there are six levels, ranging from zero to five. A Level 0 “system” is 100 percent human, for example (even if it has aids like blind spot monitors), and a Level 5 is the sort of thing that automakers are just now beginning to explore as a future vehicle.

Interestingly, the NVIDIA announcement comes just weeks after speculation that Tesla, which uses NVIDIA components in its most recent Level 2 systems (such as Autopilot 2.0), is set to partner with NVIDIA rival AMD to produce self-driving-capable computing hardware.

The significance of NVIDIA’s new computer is that it comes at a time when even the most advanced cars currently being tested in the real world are still only Level 3, which means there must always be a human in the driver’s seat ready to take over in the event of an emergency.

The key to NVIDIA’s new chipset is that it’s both extremely powerful — its 320 trillion operations per second will be needed to handle the vast amount of input data that self-driving cars must process — and energy efficient, meaning it can drive the car without placing an excessive drain on the battery.

The chip isn’t likely to bring about a Level 5 car tomorrow — that would require things like removable steering wheel patents and years of design work — but it could see service in a Level 4 vehicle (which still has a steering wheel and pedals) much sooner.

Companies like DHL already looking to deploy self-driving delivery fleets in the next year, and according to NVIDIA’s senior automotive director, over 25 of the Tier 1 automotive technology supplier’s partners are already working on self-driving taxis.

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