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DARPA awards up to $20M to NVIDIA to research high-performance, highly energy-efficient embedded processors for autonomous vehicles

DARPA is seeking a major increase in performance per watt for embedded processors. Source: DARPA. Click to enlarge.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) NVIDIA has awarded NVIDIA a contract worth up to $20 million to research embedded processor technologies that could lead to significant improvements in the ability of autonomous vehicles to collect and process data from on-board sensors.

The five-year contract, awarded under DARPA’s Power Efficiency Revolution For Embedded Computing Technologies (PERFECT) program, will fund research for processors that are 75-times more energy-efficient than current embedded solutions. The goal is to enable surveillance and computer vision systems in ground and airborne vehicles to collect and analyze vastly more data than can be processed today in real time.

Existing embedded processors deliver about 1 gigaflops of performance (1 billion floating point operations each second) per watt. The NVIDIA program, known as Project Osprey, will research low-power circuits and extremely efficient architectures and programming systems that enable 75 gigaflops per watt, using process technologies as advanced as 7 nanometer (nm) compared with today’s 28-nm process.

The technologies developed with this program can transform the capabilities of embedded systems, making autonomous vehicles more practical and intelligent. This research will help NVIDIA continue to advance mobile computing for both government and consumer applications.

—Steve Keckler, senior director of Architecture Research at NVIDIA

Project Osprey will leverage NVIDIA’s strengths in heterogeneous computing and parallel processing technology, which enable more efficient processing than traditional CPUs. NVIDIA processors are used in a wide variety of embedded applications today, including automobiles made by Audi, BMW, Tesla and Lamborghini, aircraft including the F-22 Raptor, and US Army tanks.

NVIDIA researchers will work on the program with academic partners at the University of Utah and the University of Virginia. Project Osprey, which is now underway, could, combined with two optional additional phases, continue over the next five and one-half years.

The PERFECT program envisions three phases, according to DARPA. The first phase initiates concept development and looks to provide sufficient proof of impact on processing power efficiency to justify continuing development. The second phase will work to develop technology and techniques to obtain processing system improvement of 75-times greater processing power efficiency. In this phase the performance impact of each development expects to be validated by simulation or equivalent demonstration. The goal of the third phase is to develop each technology or technique and provide a path to implementation.

NVIDIA and Audi. Two years ago, NVIDIA was tapped to provide processors that power the infotainment system found in the newest Audis and Volkswagens; other brands in the VW Group—Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini Skoda, Porsche, and SEAT—followed.

“Today’s cars aren’t personal computers—they’re far more complicated.”

The central computer in Audi’s modular infotainment platform has two main units the Multimedia Extension (MMX), which is designed and produced by NVIDIA; and the Radio and Car Control Unit (RCC), produced by Texas Instruments.

NVIDIA’s Tegra processor powers the MMX, while Texas Instrument’s processors are used in the RCC. The MMX’s modular design enables Audi to migrate from Tegra 2 to Tegra 3 and beyond.

Earlier this year, NVIDIA announced its newest SoC (system on a chip), Tegra 3, will be used in Audi’s next-generation infotainment system, and new digital instrument clusters, across its full line of vehicles, starting next year. In the larger automotive sector, NVIDIA products are shipping in, or have been designed into, 23 brands and 106 models. More than 2.5 million cars on the road today now use NVIDIA products.




Perhaps microprocessors already have extensive R&D and this $20 million could be applied to debt reduction.


Industry has already achieved the first step with MeRAM, about 10 times faster and using up to 1000 times less energy than today's RAM.

Evolution of computer & display technologies are going ahead at high speed without government hand outs.

Government investment (loans etc) to accelerate the development of higher performance standardized modular future batteries and lower cost solar cells would be a better idea.

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