Nvidia: 'Your car is your most powerful computing device'
10th Mar 2014 | 16:30
Improvements in graphics are changing how cars are made
Nvidia: the future of cars
When Apple announced that it was getting into the auto business with CarPlay, it cemented what many already knew: the car is the next big stomping ground when it comes to technology.
Some manufacturers have been sounding the car klaxon for a few years now, however.
One of these is Nvidia. A number of car companies have been utilising its graphical prowess for some time now and, as TechRadar found out, in-car entertainment is only a tiny part of what is achievable when you sprinkle a little bit of computational power over the whole car eco-system.
"I continue to be amazed with the car sector - you see pretty much every advertisement for automobiles and it is all digital," said Greg Estes, Nvidia's vice-president of marketing for the Professional Visualisation and Design business.
"Every ad, every poster... images you see on these ads can be rendered in real time and you can zoom in and out of them and interact with them."
Making the car
Using Nvidia's Quadro processor, companies such as Mercedes are taking this CG world of car ads and going a step further – using more precise modelling to help with the pre-production process of its car manufacturing. But this does mean that significant changes have to be made.
"It is one thing to make the design of the car look good but it is another thing to 'build' the car from the design and be able to render that in real time," Estes explained.
"You are not just looking at a car going 'oh this will be the general shape', they are looking at doing away with physical prototypes all together."
The reason for this, according to Estes, is that replacing a few of the steps in the physical pre-production process with digital variants will not only save a company money it will get a car to market a lot faster.
"If you can get rid of physical prototypes, if you at least move one or two iterations away from that you get a car to market a year faster, which changes everything," said Estes.
To do this, though, you need some powerful processing to make sure the digital prototype is the best it can be.
At GDC this year, Honda will be showing some of the work it is doing with Nvidia's Iray technology and Estes explained that a lot more is being done with Nvidia's Quadro and Tesla technologies.
Using these technologies it is hoped that a point can be reached where computer car creation simulates what happens when you make the tiniest of changed to a car's design in real time.
"Once you start doing fluid dynamics the Holy Grail would be for you to do the simulation and the graphics at the same time," said Estes.
"What you want to do is have the design of a car, do the fluid dynamic and understand that if you moved a side view mirror by 8cm it could give you 10 more miles per gallon, or change any number of things.
"We are working with our software partners, in the case of this, Fluent to make sure that they can take advantage of our GPUs."
Nvidia: HUDs and the future car showroom
Driving the car
With Apple taking all of the limelight at the moment with CarPlay, its own iOS in the car initiative, Estes explained just how important computer chips in cars are becoming, noting that: "The amount of work that is going into GPU processing inside a car is really impressive. The reality is that your car is your most expensive and most powerful computing device."
Currently Nvidia chips are in a number of cars but Estes notes that Tesla and Audi are currently Nvidia's most prominent partners.
"We work with them to see what can be done in the in-car entertainment space," said Estes.
"The Tesla S has our Tegra processors both in the dashboard for the heads up display and in the infotainment system. There are two Tegras in every one of those Tesla cars."
When it comes to future technologies, Estes notes that Nvidia is also well placed for when the car becomes brainier, offering up contextual information that will help journeys run that bit smoother.
"In the future you will see forward looking radar to detect other vehicles on the road, pedestrian detection within the HUD. It will give you warning systems to help with the driving," he revealed.
And then there is the dream for any driver - self-parking cars. "When you don't have to get out of a car, because it is parking itself, the doors don't have to open - you can park in the smallest of spaces and do it safely," reckoned Estes.
"It's fun as well as being safe."
Selling the car
From car creation to car showcasing, there are new technologies being integrated into showrooms that are getting around the age-old problem of not enough cars on a forecourt, by allowing salespersons to show off a new car in real time on something as small as an iPad or as big as a TV wall.
"We are working with a number of software partners and automotive makers - including Audi and General Motors - when it comes to showrooms," said Estes.
"There are so many models of cars that the dealerships can't have enough floor space to be able to show them all and we know there's a lot of margin in accessories. If you can create an experience for people that are shopping and they can see the model they want with the accessories, this pays for itself."
One of the ways this is being done is by using exact 3D models of cars not on show, with every conceivable variant of accessory and colour.
"You can spin cars around on most websites at the moment, but what you can't do is get beyond the 360 look, go inside, change the colour and the stitching, change everything.
"With this technology you can understand what different lighting conditions are like when you are in the car," said Estes.
Estes explained that the idea what that these showrooms use Nvidia's Grid technology - making use of all the processing power that's kept in the cloud and can be beamed to any connected device.
"It is now an emerging area to be able to deliver from the cloud to dealerships and selling situations these options available," he explained.
"You could take something that takes a 100 GPUs worth to process and put it on an iPad. The salesperson can show this off to a consumer.
Or you could have a massive immersive experience, showing off these cars on big screens - that's the beauty of this technology."