Wednesday, 28 March 2018 09:51

Nvidia speeds autonomous vehicle development through simulation

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Nvidia has announced a new system to allow simulated testing of autonomous vehicle systems.

Nvidia Drive Constellation is a cloud-based system using two separate servers for different functions.

One server runs the Nvidia Drive Sim software to simulate vehicle sensors such as cameras, lidar and radar.

The second contains a Nvidia Drive Pegasus AI car computer running the complete autonomous vehicle software stack, processing the simulated inputs as if it were real data.

Driving commands from Pegasus are fed back to Sim, closing the simulation loop.

Sim generates photorealistic data streams that can represent a wide range of conditions, including bad weather, glare and darkness. It also simulates different road surfaces and terrains, and the data stream can include dangerous situations to allow testing without putting humans at risk.

Constellation

"Deploying production self-driving cars requires a solution for testing and validating on billions of driving miles to achieve the safety and reliability needed for customers," said Nvidia vice-president and general manager of automotive, Rob Csongor.

"With Drive Constellation, we've accomplished that by combining our expertise in visual computing and data centres.

"With virtual simulation, we can increase the robustness of our algorithms by testing on billions of miles of custom scenarios and rare corner cases, all in a fraction of the time and cost it would take to do so on physical roads."

Part of the problem is that accidents are quite rare, observed founder and CEO Jensen Huang: in the US, 770 accidents occur for every billion miles driven. But a fleet of 20 test cars only travels around a million miles a year.

Ten thousand Constellation systems can simulate three billion miles a year, he said.

Senior director of automotive Danny Shapiro said "Self-driving is hard. We recognise that", and Drive Constellation provides a way to perfect algorithms before putting them on the road.

Simulation provides a way of showing the industry, the public and regulators how safe self-driving systems can be, he said.

Shapiro expanded on Csongor's point about testing corner cases. Simulation provides a way of seeing how an autonomous vehicle copes with a wide variety of hazards, even in conditions that occur infrequently, such as blinding sunlight.

Testing in simulated environments "is going to help advance the state of the art", he said.

Asked about the recent fatal accident, Shapiro said "this is exactly why we're doing what we're doing."

"We're making great progress," he added.

More than 370 companies — including 200+ start-ups — are part of the ecosystem around Nvidia's automotive products, he observed, noting that Volkswagen and Toyota are moving to the platform.

Drive Constellation will be made available to Nvidia's early access partners in the third quarter.

Shapiro said it could potentially be hosted by Nvidia or third-party cloud providers, or run in customers' own data centres, but the company has yet to determine how it will be sold.

Disclosure: The writer attended Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference as a guest of the company.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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