Nvidia has already won numerous customers in the automotive sector with its SoC Drive Orin. Now the company has presented a successor: The Drive Thor is supposed to deliver enough computing power to act as a central computer for the entire car – from ADAS to In-vehicle Infotainment (IVI) infotainment domains.
During his keynote at the Nvidia Technology Conference GTC, CEO Jensen Huang introduced the Drive Thor. Named after the ancient thunder god of the North Germanic peoples, the automotive-grade SoC is said to deliver a system performance of 2000 teraflops, Huang promises. The new superchip should also be available on the market in time to equip the 2025 models with it.
At the same time, the Drive Thor should reduce system costs to the point where it can be used in vehicles with autonomy level 2+ on the SAE scale, explained Nvidia’s automotive vice president Danny Shapiro. In this cost-sensitive sector, competitors such as Qualcomm and STMicroelectronics had recently gained significant ground. The Drive Thor will know no upper limits – it is supposed to have enough computing power to even control fully autonomous vehicles.
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Drive Thor unifies traditionally distributed functions in vehicles — including digital cluster, infotainment, parking and assisted driving — for greater efficiency in development and faster software iteration. Manufacturers can configure the Drive Thor SoC in multiple ways. They can dedicate all of the platform’s 2,000 teraflops to the autonomous driving pipeline, or use a portion for in-cabin AI and infotainment and another portion for driver assistance.
Like the current-generation Drive Orin, Drive Thor is designed to be ASIL-D functionally safe, and is built on a scalable architecture, so developers can seamlessly port their past software development to the latest platform, Huang promised.
In addition to raw performance, Drive Thor delivers an incredible leap in deep neural network accuracy. Drive Thor marks the first inclusion of a transformer engine in the AV platform family. The transformer engine is a new component of the Nvidia GPU Tensor Core. Transformer networks process video data as a single perception frame, enabling the compute platform to process more data over time.
With 8-bit floating point (FP8) precision, the SoC introduces a new data type for automotive. Traditionally, AV developers see a loss in accuracy when moving from 32-bit floating point to 8- bit integer data formats. FP8 precision eases this transition, making it possible for developers to transfer data types without sacrificing accuracy.
Additionally, Drive Thor uses updated ARM Poseidon AE cores, making it one of the highest performance processors in the industry. The SoC is capable of multi-domain computing, meaning it can partition tasks for autonomous driving and in-vehicle infotainment. This multi-compute domain isolation lets concurrent time-critical processes run without interruption. On one computer, the vehicle can simultaneously run, for instance, Linux, QNX and Android.
Typically, these types of functions are controlled by dozens of ECUs distributed throughout a vehicle. Rather than relying on these distributed ECUs, manufacturers can now consolidate vehicle functions using Drive Thor’s ability to isolate specific tasks. All vehicle displays, sensors and more can connect to this single SoC, simplifying what has been an incredibly complex supply chain for automakers.
For more fail-safety or for even more compute performance, customers can also connect two of Nvidia’s superchips via the company’s NVLink-C2C chip interconnect technology to serve as a monolithic platform that runs a single operating system. This capability provides automakers with the compute headroom and flexibility to build software- defined vehicles that are continuously upgradeable through secure, over-the-air updates.
For now, only Chinese carmaker Zeekr has publicly committed to use the Drive Thor in its next-generation cars. Better known in Europe than Zeekr is its parent company, Geely – who also owns Swedish carmaker Volvo. Also known for its strategic partnership with Nvidia is Mercedes-Benz. During a press briefing, Nvidia’s Danny Shapiro declined to name further users from the automotive industry. Upon the question if there are more members of the European automotive industry among the list of potential buyers, Shapiro said “Yes”.