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Nvidia: Technology Leadership in Advanced Driver Assistance (NASDAQ:NVDA)

Semiconductor maker Nvidia reports quarterly results

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News

NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA) has invested years and billions of dollars in developing system-on-chips that combine ARM CPU cores with Nvidia’s GPU technology. Until recently, Nvidia struggled to find a market for his SOC of its own. All mobile devices. Around 2017, Nvidia steered his SOC business towards a then-new application: self-driving cars. True self-driving cars have proven elusive, but Nvidia’s partners are now able to offer driver assistance systems that don’t require constant driver monitoring. The Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot System, of which he is one, is the first system approved by the German government.

Mercedes-Benz introduces Drive Pilot, the world’s first Level 3 driver assistance system approved by the German government.

Last December, Mercedes-Benz announced that its Drive Pilot system was the first system approved by the German Federal Motor Transport Authority. Drive Pilot is considered a “Level 3” Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) under the SAE definition. Drive Pilot, unlike his other ADAS systems, does not require the driver to constantly monitor the system and be in control at all times.

SAE ADAS level


Mercedes’ announcement summarizes how the system works.

On appropriate freeway sections and heavy traffic, Drive Pilot can initially take over driving up to the legally permitted speed of 37 mph. The controls needed for this are on the left and right thumb dimples on the steering wheel his rim. When the driver activates his DRIVE PILOT, the system controls speed and distance to steer the vehicle within its lane. Route profiles, events that occur along the route, and traffic signs are considered accordingly. The system also reacts to unforeseen traffic conditions and responds individually, for example by evasive or braking maneuvers within the lane.

Drive Pilot uses an extensive suite of radar, LIDAR, ultrasonic, and video camera sensors.

drive pilot sensor

design news

A green light on the steering wheel indicates that the conditions are met to enable Drive Pilot in Level 3 mode.

drive pilot steering wheel

mercedes benz usa

Drive Pilot can also operate in Level 2 mode when all conditions, such as highway speed, are not met. So features like lane keeping and emergency braking are still available, but the driver must be prepared to take control.

Dan Carney, author of the Design News article referenced above, describes what it was like to let Drive Pilot do the driving:

While lapping the oval track at the Mercedes-Benz Immendengen proving ground in the company’s EQS electric full-size sedan, Mercedes engineers played Tetris on the car’s infotainment display, even sitting behind the steering wheel. I did my best to play

Mercedes engineers have had the opportunity to demonstrate the various functions of Drive Pilot.

Later, while cruising through slow but steady traffic, another Mercedes driver swooped down and aggressively crossed the EQS’s bow and proceeded into an adjacent lane. Underperforming driver assistance systems lose their composure in such situations, braking in hysterical fear when the vehicle ahead suddenly approaches. But Drive-his pilot is smart enough to recognize an intruder passing by in the car’s personal space, allowing the offender to quickly escape.

It says a lot about the confidence in the system that Mercedes was willing to bring journalists to the demonstration, albeit under controlled conditions. It is still considered a Level 2 system by the Traffic Safety Administration.

The announcement said little about the underlying technology, but at CES in January, Nvidia revealed that it provided Drive Pilot with a “full stack” of hardware and software. About 34 minutes into the presentation, his Vice President and General Manager of Automotive Business Ali Kani said:

Some partners just buy our chips and core operating systems while developing their own software applications. Other partners like Mercedes-Benz trust us across this stack. From the self-driving software running on his Nvidia computer in each car, to training AI models in the cloud, generating synthetic data, validating the vehicle through simulations and testing new features, and finally wirelessly to each Mercedes-Benz vehicle. is pushed with .

Nvidia has been officially recognized as a trusted partner of prestigious automotive brands in the most technologically advanced segment of the automotive supply chain.

Drive Pilot appears to be the only Level 3 system currently in production. According to CNET, Audi had planned a Level 3 system for 2020, but scrapped it due to liability concerns.

According to Electronic Design, Polestar’s next EV, the Polestar 3, will feature a Level 3 system based on the Volvo Ride Pilot. Volvo is his Nvidia partner in ADAS development and Ride Pilot is based on Nvidia Drive hardware. The Polestar 3 is expected to be announced this year.

According to Electronic Design, BMW will offer a Level 3 based on Mobileye technology in the 2023 7 Series. However, Mobileye’s processor best suited for Level 3 is the EyeQ Ultra, which was announced at CES in January, so we’re a little skeptical about timing and availability. As we’ll see below, the EyeQ Ultra is set not to go into production until 2025.

The Electronic Design article also mentions other very capable systems such as GM’s Ultra Cruise, Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Beta and even Lucid’s DreamDrive. However, none of these are supposed to be Level 3 systems. Rather, they are “hands-free” systems, requiring the driver to pay attention to the vehicle and driving conditions. That is, it does not “take your eyes off”.

Powering Drive Pilot is Nvidia’s Orin system-on-a-chip, which outperforms Tesla and Mobileye and is in production now.

Nvidia announced the Orin SOC at the China GPU Technology Summit in December 2019. Nvidia has promised Orin will offer seven times more AI capabilities than his previous generation SOC called Xavier.

Xavier was almost certainly a commercial failure. Nvidia had high hopes that Xavier would form the basis of “off-the-shelf” automotive ADAS systems sold by component companies such as Bosch and he ZF, but that never happened.

With most people underestimating the difficulty of self-driving cars, Tesla announced its HW 3.0 SOC in April 2019. His SOC at Tesla is far superior to Xavier and set the bar for what a capable ADAS system hardware should be. -drive.

Nvidia’s answer was the Orin, which arguably outperformed the Tesla SOC. Probably because AI performance claims are usually measured in TOPS (Tera operations per second or 10^12 operations/sec). However, not specifying the exact nature of the operation makes it difficult to use the TOPS metric.

At Autonomy Day, Tesla specified that the FSD chip is capable of 72 TOPS.

Tesla FSD chip


Nvidia specifies Orin AI’s performance at 254 TOPS in 8-bit integer arithmetic, which is probably the closest match to Tesla’s claimed performance.

Orin Developer Kit


Orin is a larger chip with 17 billion transistors made on TSMC sub-14 nm process compared to Tesla chips of 6 billion transistors made on 14 nm process. Most of Orin’s size is to accommodate various sensor and camera inputs and to provide image signal processing.

Tesla’s FSD chip was a breakthrough in 2019 and is still used in Tesla cars, but it lags far behind Nvidia. At Tesla’s AI Day Q&A, Elon Musk estimated that HW 4.0 would be four times as powerful as his HW 3.0. This means that HW 4.0 is capable of about 280 TOPS, roughly matching Orin. However, it is not clear when HW 4.0 is coming.

In the future, we can also expect the EyeQ Ultra, which Mobileye (INTC) announced at CES in January.

EyeQ Ultra

mobile eye

Based on charted specs, the Orin is already stronger than the EyeQ Ultra.

So far, Nvidia’s Orin reigns as the most powerful single-chip solution for ADAS in production. And Nvidia isn’t standing still. Next on the development roadmap is Atlan.

Atlan SOC


Nvidia claims Atlan offers a 4x improvement over Orin, or about 1000 TOPS in 8-bit integer matrix operations. Atlan could become the highest performing SOC for ADAS applications and robotics when it goes into production in 2025.

Investor Tip: Drive’s Growth Potential

The continuous improvement in SOC performance of ADAS systems shows that automakers and chip developers haven’t really found the level of chip performance that meets their needs for complete autonomy. Nvidia and others will continue to develop stronger SOCs until they reach that level.

For now, Nvidia offers the most powerful SOC, and most importantly, the complete hardware and software stack available for the Nvidia Drive platform, as shown in the developer kit above. . Nvidia was able to translate Orin’s superior performance into multiple design wins. In announcing the start of production of his Orin in March 2022, Nvidia highlighted its design win pipeline.

The company also announced that its automotive pipeline has grown to more than $11 billion over the next six years, following a string of design wins with automakers around the world.

Over 25 automakers have adopted the Nvidia DRIVE Orin™ system-on-chip (SoC). Starting this year, we are introducing software-defined vehicles built on a centralized AI computing platform.

Powered by Nvidia Orin™, DRIVE Hyperion serves as the central nervous system and AI brain of new energy vehicles, ensuring safe and reliable driving capabilities while providing constantly improved cutting-edge AI capabilities.

Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang said:

Orin is the AI ​​computing platform of choice for 20 of the world’s top 30 passenger electric vehicle manufacturers. In addition to Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar Land Rover and Volvo Cars have also opted for his Nvidia Drive.

The recent resignation of Volkswagen AG CEO Herbert Diess over software lagging suggests that more mainstream automakers are turning to Nvidia as well. The approach at VW was to do everything in-house. I discussed this in a recent article for my Marketplace service Rethink Technology.

These efforts included the development of VW’s own hardware platform and operating system called VW.OS. Not surprisingly, this delayed the launch of high-end EVs from the Porsche, Audi and Bentley brands.

Automakers have essentially become system integrators of supply chain components and subsystems. Nvidia is perfectly positioned to contribute to that paradigm as an automotive supplier.

Drive provides the right level of hardware and software so automakers can configure and complete their Drive system as needed. Drive enables automakers to complete high-level software for their vehicles without getting bogged down in the details of operating systems and AI models.and car maker requirement Top-level control over software to integrate software and hardware as part of the production process.

VW has clearly tried to emulate Tesla, which is probably not the right answer for most automakers. For most people, the Mercedes/Nvidia partnership is a better model for realizing the programmable cars of the future. I would leave his Nvidia long and rate it as a hold.