NVIDIA says Tesla raised the bar for self-driving tech, car makers must deliver

Tesla's Full Self-Driving computer. | Image: Tesla

NVIDIA, a prominent and highly successful leader in computer chip design, says that Tesla has raised the bar in autonomous driving software, and other car makers will have to deliver similar performance if they want to compete in the long-term future of the auto industry, according to a recent NVIDIA company blog.

“It’s financially insane to buy anything other than a Tesla,” CEO Elon Musk stated during the company’s Autonomy Day event. He then compared the purchase of any other car as equivalent to buying a horse for one’s transportation purposes. NVIDIA, for its part, agrees with Musk and Tesla’s sentiments about the future of self-driving and the need for powerful computers to push its progress.

“Self-driving cars—which are key to new levels of safety, efficiency, and convenience—are the future of the industry. And they require massive amounts of computing performance… This is the way forward. Every other automaker will need to deliver this level of performance,” the chip maker wrote.

The type of autonomous driving technology Tesla is pushing is predicted to be the inevitable standard, and the company’s lead in the arena will likely increase even further as more of their vehicles take to the road. “By end of this quarter, about half a million Teslas will have full self-driving hardware (pending computer swap) & we will make another half million FSD cars by mid next year,” Musk tweeted, emphasizing this point and echoing what he’d explained the day prior.

Tesla’s recent Autonomy Day presentation drew comparisons between the all-electric car maker’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) computer chip and those produced by NVIDIA, the only computer processing unit maker delivering performance in line with Tesla’s. NVIDIA currently has two self-driving chips in the works: the Xavier SoC (system on a chip) for assisted driving AutoPilot features, and the DRIVE AGX Pegasus computer for full self-driving. The comparisons in Tesla’s presentation were directed at the Xavier in a single-chip configuration.

The technical performance specifications required to run powerful artificial intelligence (AI) neural networks (NN) for autonomous driving require operations performed per second to be measured in the trillions – abbreviated as TOPS (tera operations per second). Tesla’s FSD computer chip can perform at a rate of 72 TOPS (x2 chips in the computer for 144 TOPS total), and the Xavier does 30 TOPS (mistakenly claimed to be 21 TOPS at Tesla’s event, per NVIDIA’s blog).

NVIDIA also expressed in the blog piece its opinion that the match between FSD and Xavier wasn’t quite an apples-to-apples comparison, given the purposes of the two chips. The chip designer prefers its DRIVE AGX Pegasus for the line-up, a computer intended for fully autonomous driving and capable of 320 TOPS. Tesla is assumingly aware of this product and obviously acknowledges the high level of technology developed by NVIDIA given that Hardware 2.5, the computer currently running Tesla’s Autopilot features, was made by the company.

A Tesla with driver features “deleted” under the Tesla Network. | Image: Tesla

There are additional specifications such as power consumption that further differentiate FSD from NVIDIA’s products with a more similar purpose to Tesla’s latest computer. Thus, a different product match may not have mattered towards the overall point being made in the presentation. Either way, a more important distinction between the two companies is the current status of their technologies.

Tesla’s chip was crowned as “objectively the best in the world” by Musk, and this looks to be true, given the fact that all Tesla Model S, 3, and X vehicles being produced now have the hardware installed and will add to the already accruing real world self-driving data the company’s cars provide. NVIDIA has partnered with other car manufacturers to develop its products, but they are not incorporated in production vehicles the way Tesla’s FSD has been yet.

The performance Tesla has achieved in its FSD computer is impressive, and that was and continues to be the point. “[Autonomy] is basically our entire expense structure,” Musk told an investor inquiring about where the California-based company was incurring the most cost. Tesla is hedging its fiscal future on the success of autonomous driving in the marketplace, and the company is doing so with bullish energy driven by its famous top executive.

Musk expects Tesla’s Full Self-Driving software to be complete by the end of this year and fully operational by the second quarter of next year.

NVIDIA says Tesla raised the bar for self-driving tech, car makers must deliver
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