Expect Tesla cars to come with the company’s own smart hardware
TAKING A BREAK FROM TWEETING, Elon Musk has decided to show Nvidia’s Drive platform the door and have Tesla create its own self-driving car hardware.
In an earnings call discussing Tesla’s second quarter 2018 financial results, Musk revealed that Tesla has been working on its own chips and hardware that will effectively work as drop-in replacements for the current Nvidia hardware used to power Tesla cars’ autonomous features.
“I’m a big fan of Nvidia, they do great stuff. But using a GPU, fundamentally it’s an emulation mode, and then you also get choked on the bus. So, the transfer between the GPU and the CPU ends up being one that constrains the system,” said Musk in a call transcribed by Seeking Alpha.
“So, the net effect is we’re able to, with the Tesla computer – and we’ve been like semi-stealth mode basically for the last two to three years on this, but I think it’s probably time to let the cat out of the bag because the cat’s going to come out of the bag anyway.”
Said cat is known as “Hardware 3”, hardly the snappiest of names, which will apparently bypass the need for emulation by essentially allowing the neural networks that power Tesla’s self-driving systems to work at a “bare metal level”. That means the calculations and computer vision needed for autonomous systems to work can be done on the system and within its memory.
Musk noted that while the current Nvidia tech allows for the handling of 200 frames per second, the Tesla chip can rattle through 2,000 frames per second; a rather dramatic hike.
While Nvidia’s Drive hardware underpins a lot of self-driving car systems currently available or under development, the move by Tesla to make its own chips could give the carmaker more control over how it develops autonomous systems.
If it needs to change something at a hardware level then it can simply rework Hardware 3 to be suitable for the task, rather than wait on new tech from Nvidia.
And Musk says Tesla’s own hardware costs as much as the current Nvidia hardware, and the ability to simply retrofit it should helps prevent Tesla’s costs from skyrocketing.
Such an undertaking by Tesla is still arguably a risk given it’s moving away from a specialist chipmaker.
But then Apple has a competitive advantage when it comes to iPhone performance as it makes its own custom ARM-based chips and retains control over how it designs the slice of silicon. So it would appear Tesla is trying to follow this example, but only time will tell if such a move is a success or failure. µ