Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said in an analyst conference call that self-driving cars will be on roads and highways within three years.
The Santa Clara, California-based company reported better-than-expected earnings today on the strength of its position as a maker of graphics chips for both gaming machines and artificial intelligence applications.
“Next year, we’ll see simulated environments and development systems,” he said. “Year after that, robot taxis. The year after that, self-driving cars.”
Huang has a lot of insight into self-driving cars because his company is making the brains for those cars. Those brains are car supercomputers like the Nvidia Drive PX 2 Pegasus hardware that more than 200 hardware companies and car makers are beginning to adopt and 120 startups are using.
Nvidia began doing heavy research on deep learning neural networks and artificial intelligence about seven years ago. It created the software, CUDA, to adapt its graphics processing units (GPUs) to run non-graphics software, opening the way for graphics chips running AI software.
The company’s latest AI processor, Volta, is “the single largest processor humanity has ever made,” Huang said. It has 21 billion transistors, or the basic on-off switches of computing. That takes the work of 2,000 to 3,000 Nvidia engineers.
He said, “These processors we are creating are really hard. They are the hardest things in the world. We get one shot at it. Our investment has been one of the best ever.”
Huang also said, “I believe that everything that moves will be autonomous some day. Cars. Trucks. Shuttles. Delivery vehicles. It could be robots moving around warehouses or delivering a pizza to you.”
In the coming year, Nvidia will get revenues from the supercomputers for development systems, Huang said. He said that the robot taxis will ramp the year after that and in late 2020 to 2021 you’ll see the first fully automatic, level four, autonomous cars. (Level four cars have no driver participation.)
As for Intel saying it will go into high-end graphics and teaming up with AMD on chips, Huang said there is a lot of news out there. Raja Koduri, head of graphics for AMD, left this week for a job as chief architecture for future chips at Intel.
“Raja leaving AMD is a great loss for AMD and a recognition by Intel that the GPU is incredibly important now,” he said.
Intel and AMD built a semi-custom graphics processor for an Intel processor.