At this year’s CES, chipmaker Nvidia is showcasing new technology that could enable automakers to develop AI virtual assistants that are far smarter than the in-car versions of Alexa and Siri we’re used to interacting with today.
Nvidia announced two new software platforms for self-driving cars during a press conference on Sunday: Drive IX and Drive AR. The former allows carmakers to create artificially intelligent co-pilots that take advantage of sensors both inside and outside of the car to provide assistance. Volkswagen will be one of the first partners to begin experimenting with Drive IX in its I.D. Buzz prototype.
Meanwhile, AI co-pilots built on Drive IX would be able to use facial recognition to identify the driver in order to accomplish tasks like starting the car or detecting whether or not the person behind the wheel is too drowsy to drive. The platform will also let automakers create gesture and voice-based controls for vehicles.
The new software offers another safety-boosting feature: By using the car’s internal and external sensors, Drive IX-based virtual assistants would be able to tell whether the driver is looking the other way when a pedestrian steps off the curb. Nvidia’s other new software platform, Drive AR, makes it possible for auto companies to create augmented reality-based interfaces for cars that display notifications and points of interest.
Nvidia’s new Xavier processor will be powering these new capabilities. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm initially unveiled Xavier in 2016, but only just revealed at CES that its partners will begin receiving the new processors this quarter. Xavier is part of Nvidia’s broader computer system for self-driving cars called Pegasus, which the company says is about the size of a license plate and allows for Level 5 autonomy — meaning vehicles would be able to operate without a steering wheel, gas pedal or mirrors.
The announcement is also yet another indication that the car is the next major platform technology firms will be scrambling to dominate. Nvidia says it’s already working with 320 companies and organizations on self-driving vehicles.
But the competition is quickly escalating: Qualcomm, which develops the processors used in most of today’s smartphones, recently obtained a permit to test self-driving cars on public roads in California after it unveiled its own chipset for self-driving cars in September. Intel also said in August that it plans to test self-driving technology on a fleet of 100 cars.