Nvidia-Volkswagen announcement at CES 2018

Volkswagen to use Nvidia’s AI technology to control its self-driving cars

Nvidia used the first press day of CES 2018 to announce a number of new products and the technology partnerships to deploy them.

Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang took the opportunity to celebrate the company's powerful new GPUs, including the GeForce Volta and the $3,000 Titan V, actively targeting uses worldwide for Big Data machine learning, AI and cloud computing tasks.

Huang keenly demonstrated their small physique in comparison to the previous generation of GPUs despite the fact that they boast considerable speed and power improvements. For example, the new generation is able to deliver the same results for machine learning on a single rack of servers where previously it would have taken four. Huang kept repeating the sales mantra, “The more you buy, the more you save”; he was joking, but also not joking.

The presentation also featured a surprise appearance from Volkswagen (VW) CEO Dr Herbert Deiss, who announced a technology partnership between the two companies that will see VW using Nvidia's AI in future vehicles. The VW I.D. Buzz - Volkswagen's all-electric, autonomous spiritual successor to the original camper van - will use Nvidia's brand-new Drive IX platform, which engages directly and personally with the driver and known passengers, allowing for a significant degree of tailored in-cabin customisation.

The Drive platform is powered by Nvidia's Xavier processor and its automotive stack splits off into three overlapping areas: the existing Drive AV for autonomous driving and two new areas announced duing the presentation, Drive IX for the user experience and Drive AR for augmented reality projection in safety and navigation systems.

Along with the Volkswagen partnership, Huang also confirmed deals with Uber to create self-driving taxis, with Baidu and ZF in China, as well as with 300 other car companies, including Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

Volkswagen's I.D Buzz is tentatively scheduled for production by 2022, several prototypes already having been presented at motor shows in recent years to an enthusiastic reception. It seems likely that commercial production will be held at least until VW is fully confident in its electric future, as well as giving automotive AI and autonomous technology in general time to stabilise. These are fast-growing areas and every year brings quantum leaps forward in design and execution across the automotive industry.

Setting up Deiss's introduction to the stage, Huang reminisced fondly about the Volkswagen camper van that he and his friends had stayed in 40 years ago the first time Huang came to Las Vegas. Back then, he was a teenage table tennis champion and he and his team were brought to Vegas in a blue VW Microbus. Huang joked how the vehicle was like a hotel to him - literally - as he and his team-mates slept in it for the week.

Huang also recalled a conversation with Deiss, at one of their earliest meetings, in which Huang was demonstrating nascent Nvidia image-recognition technology and machine learning, hoping to wow his German friend. However, the presentation fell at the first hurdle when the software failed to identify the daschund - or sausage dog - that Deiss suggested as a first test. The software simply could not identify the unusually shaped animal and Deiss had to tell Huang that his software wasn't ready.

Years later, Huang was able to demonstrate the impressive capabilities of Nvidia's latest self-taught, image-recognition software and the sheer power and speed of the latest Nvidia GPUs to both Deiss and a packed ballroom of the world's technology press inside the MGM Grand.

Huang rounded his performance off with a stunning virtual reality recreation of an original 1960s VW Microbus - just like the one he'd stayed in 40 years ago - parked at the beach, before updating the scene to include VW's forthcoming ID Buzz. Three Nvidia representatives joined the scene using VR and engaged with the virtual van in real time, opening the sliding doors, pivoting the front seats to face the rear to create a more social space and tuning the radio to find just the right music. As Huang remarked, whenever you're in a Bus, you're always having a good time.

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