Last year, German automaker Daimler and electronics company Bosch announced they would join forces to develop a fully automated, driverless car system. In a show of progress today, the two announced that they’ve chosen Nvidia’s Drive Pegasus as their artificial intelligence (AI) computing platform of choice, and that they’ll begin testing self-driving cars in California in the second half of 2019.
“Automated vehicles are complex computers on wheels,” the two companies said in a press release, “and they need even more computing power if they are to negotiate city traffic automatically, with input sourced from an array of disparate surround sensors.”
Under the terms of the arrangement with Nvidia, the Santa Clara chipmaker will supply a powerful processor and graphics chip to manage the network of electronic control units (ECUs) — the sensor-equipped microcontrollers that control cars’ transmission, door lock, window, and other systems — in Bosch and Daimler’s prototype vehicles, as well as software to process the algorithms generated by the two companies’ self-driving simulations. A custom cooling system developed jointly by Bosch and Daimler will keep the ECUs chilly while they churn through as many as 100 gigabytes of data per kilometer of distance traveled.
“Our collaboration with Daimler and Bosch will unite each company’s strengths,” Danny Shapiro, senior director of Nvidia’s automotive division, said in a statement. “Bosch, the world’s largest tier 1 automotive supplier, brings its hardware and system expertise, [and] Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler brings total vehicle expertise and a global brand that’s synonymous with safety and quality.”
Nvidia unveiled Nvidia Drive PX Pegasus, the latest generation of its self-driving platform, at GTC Europe in October 2017 in Munich, Germany. Its two Nvidia Xavier system-on-chips and dual graphics cards are capable of performing more than 320 trillion operations per second, transferring up to a terabyte of data a second and ingesting data from up to 16 cameras and six lidar sensors. Its data centers, which leverage its AI-optimized Nvidia DGX architecture and run its Drive Constellation AV simulator, train object detection, map localization, and path planning algorithms and validate them over time.
Nvidia claims that more than 370 partners are developing with Nvidia, including Deutsche Post DHL, which plans to deploy a fleet of Nvidia-powered autonomous delivery trucks starting in 2019.
Bosch and Daimler expect performance to be comparable to about six “synchronized, highly advanced” desktop computers, and said that Pegasus — drawing on a bevy of radar, video, lidar, and ultrasound sensors — would be able to react to changing road conditions within 20 milliseconds.
With the hardware of Bosch and Daimler’s self-driving program in place, the two companies plan to begin testing autonomous Mercedes S-Class sedans and V-Class vans next year in California, where they’ll offer a shuttle service on selected routes in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“The test operation will provide information about how fully-automated and driverless vehicles can be integrated into a multi-modal transportation network,” Bosch and Daimler said in a statement. “Many cities face numerous challenges that are increasingly burdening the existing transport system. The test is to show how this new technology might be a solution to these challenges.”
The two companies announced their self-driving partnership in 2017, with the goal of getting self-driving cars on roads in the next decade. It’s a symbiotic relationship: Bosch supplies components such as sensors, actuators, and control units, and Daimler provides development vehicles and test facilities.
In recent months, Bosch has made clear its autonomous driving ambitions. It created a new Connected Mobility Services division staffed with more than 600 employees, acquired B2B ridesharing startup Splitting Fares, and partnered with TomTom on mapping systems that’ll help vehicles see the road ahead.
Daimler, for its part, in June obtained a permit from the Chinese government allowing it to test self-driving cars powered by Baidu’s Apollo platform on public roads in Beijing. (It already has permits for testing self-driving cars in the U.S. and Germany.) It also operates a carsharing service of its own — Car2Go — that recently surpassed 3 million members worldwide, as well as the Uber-style app MyTaxi and carpooling service Flinc.
Bosch and Daimler are far from the only companies ramping up development of self-driving cars. Google subsidiary Waymo’s more than 600 Fiat Chrysler Pacifica minivans have driven in 25 cities across the U.S. Lyft is conducting self-driving car trials in Boston. And General Motors plans to launch an autonomous car ridesharing service next year.
But unlike some of their competitors, Bosch and Daimler plan to launch Level 4 and Level 5 automated vehicles, which can negotiate city streets, highways, and backroads with minimal oversight. Level 4 driverless cars operate autonomously in geofenced areas and specific conditions, while Level 5 vehicles drive on any road and in almost all conditions.
“Developing automated driving to a level ready for series production is like a decathlon,” Dr. Stephan Hönle, senior vice president at Bosch, said in a statement. “It’s not enough to be good in one or two areas. Like us, you have to master all disciplines. Only then will we succeed in bringing automated driving to the roads and the city safely.”