Updatable Cars Could Be the Future of Autonomous Vehicles

Expansion packs for your real life auto

  • NVIDIA has announced a collaboration with Jaguar Land Rover to design AI-powered autonomous vehicles.
  • The technology will be part of all new JLR vehicles from 2025 onwards.
  • NVIDIA says the technology would enable it to push new features and functionality to the vehicles.
Field of view from an autonomous car

NVIDIA

We know autonomous vehicles still have a ways to go, but if NVIDIA has anything to say, you might soon be updating new features in your self-driving cars over-the-air the same way you update your smartphone.

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) recently created a partnership with NVIDIA to jointly develop automated driving systems and AI-enabled software-defined services for all of its new vehicle platforms slated for production beginning in 2025. 

“Traditionally, a car was at its best when it drove off the lot,” Danny Shapiro, VP of Automotive, NVIDIA, told Lifewire over email. “Now, we’re turning that on its head as the car will be at its most basic level the day you take delivery, and it will just get better over time.”

Aging Like Wine

Shapiro said software-defined vehicles are an extension of the industry’s move away from fixed-function devices. Consumers these days, he said, expect everything from their smartphones to smart TVs to get better over time through new software updates. 

This software-defined approach is also changing transportation, said Shapiro, making vehicles safer and more efficient than ever before while at the same time adding convenience features for both drivers and passengers.

“We firmly believe that the next generation of transportation is autonomous, so we’re making it our mission at NVIDIA to develop self-driving technology that enables safer, less congested roads and mobility for all,” Shapiro said.

Land Rover vehicles in front of a large building, NVIDIA logo nearby

NVIDIA

But that’s easier said than done. When NVIDIA first started moving towards autonomous vehicles (AV), it discovered that traditional vehicle architectures were never designed to support a software-first approach. The vast majority of vehicles used dozens of electronic control units (ECUs) throughout the car, with each ECU specialized for a certain task.

Shapiro said that instead of hard-coding dedicated functions into ECUs, NVIDIA’s approach to a modern vehicle architecture is based around centralized computing and stacks of software that leverage artificial intelligence. 

This unified architecture, named NVIDIA Drive Hyperion, would enable automakers to integrate and update advanced software features throughout the entire lifetime of the car. “Just like a mobile phone, which receives regular software updates, these software-defined vehicles will be perpetually updateable machines that get better and better over time.”

Software-Defined Vehicles

Shapiro explained the NVIDIA DRIVE Hyperion software-defined platform as a complete computing and sensor architecture. It is designed to be modular to enable automakers to easily pick and choose the exact components and functionalities they need and have access to certified radar, camera, ultrasonic, and lidar sensors. 

The whole idea behind the modular and adaptable architecture is to speed development time and lower costs, which Shapiro said would help a partner like JLR leverage NVIDIA’s expertise rather than starting from scratch.

Olivier Blanchard, Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, believes this modular and adaptable approach has changed the landscape of autonomous vehicles. Calling the automotive market as the new competitive battleground for chipmakers, Blanchard argued that as recently as a couple of years ago, traditional automakers were still trying to catch up to Tesla on the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) front. 

Today, however, Blanchard believes the race towards advanced autonomous vehicles is a lot flatter across the automotive industry. Blanchard said this is primarily due to modular platforms such as NVIDIA’s Drive, which before the recent JLR partnership, had already turned up in Mercedes, Volvo, and Hyundai vehicles, and looks to be especially attractive to EV startups as well. 

Despite the leaps in AV tech, Shapiro believes legacy car models will continue to be on the roads for several more decades. Even when it comes to AVs, their rollout will occur in stages, with the first generations predominantly featuring Level 2+ and Level 3 driving assistance. These still require the driver to be alert and always ready to take over, irrespective of the capabilities of the driving system.

“At the end of the day, safety needs to be the number one priority. When we’re talking about safety and human lives, we want to make sure we’re not only getting it right but also that we’re never getting it wrong.” 

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