Nvidia boosts self-driving AI business with Volvo trucks deal


STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s AB Volvo is joining forces with Nvidia to develop artificial intelligence used in self-driving trucks, in a boost for the U.S. chipmaker that was ditched by Tesla last year.

FILE PHOTO: A Volvo logo is pictured on the stand during the 87th International Motor Show at Palexpo in Geneva, Switzerland, March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The agreement announced on Tuesday by Nvidia and Volvo, the world’s second-biggest truckmaker after Daimler, is a long-term partnership spanning several years. Work will begin immediately in Santa Clara, California and Gothenburg, Sweden.

Volvo, which demonstrated its first cabin-less autonomous truck Vera last year, said the partnership would develop a flexible, scalable self-driving system, which is planned to be used first in pilot schemes before commercial deployment.

“The resulting system is designed to safely handle fully autonomous driving on public roads and highways,” Volvo said in a statement.

Nvidia, known for its powerful gaming graphics chips, has been aggressively expanding into the automotive sphere, where trucks – with their regular routes that are easier to automate than cars navigating traffic – may lead the way in self-driving.

Nvidia dominates the fast-growing AI chip market alongside Intel.

Tesla, Ford, Daimler and several startups are racing each other toward autonomy, using closed-area pilots such as warehouse-to-warehouse delivery or mining-site operations to speed up testing and commercialization.

Volvo’s first commercial autonomous technology will move into real operation from pilot mode in winter this year.

Seven Volvo FH16 trucks will transport limestone for Norway’s Broennoey Kalk AS from a mine to a nearby port, Volvo Trucks’ autonomous solutions director Sasko Cuklev said on Tuesday.

“This coming winter, Volvo Trucks autonomous mining solution will be in operation and we will get paid per transported ton,” Cuklev said at the company’s annual general meeting in Gothenburg.

He said the seven trucks, together with a site management system, truck services and support, workshop set-up and insurance would be wrapped together to make Volvo’s first commercial autonomous transport package.

Morgan Stanley analysts said last month that Nvidia-backed startup TuSimple had secured 12 customers that were generating revenue. TuSimple last month said it had begun testing for the U.S. Postal Service.

PILOT PROJECT

Nvidia, which has previously announced technology partnerships with automakers including Volkswagen, Mercedez-Benz and Toyota, said it was thrilled to team up with Volvo.

“The latest breakthroughs in AI and robotics bring a new level of intelligence and automation to address the transportation challenges we face,” said Nvidia Chief Executive Jensen Huang.

Volvo said last week its Vera self-driving truck would begin transporting goods from a logistics center to a port terminal in Gothenburg in collaboration with logistics firm DFDS, in a first step toward operations on public roads here

Nvidia’s so-called Drive Constellation chips often power the machine learning used to refine self-driving car software algorithms inside data centers, and the company has also been working to build its Drive chips into cars.

FILE PHOTO: A NVIDIA logo is shown at SIGGRAPH 2017 in Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Automotive chips accounted for $641 million of Nvidia’s $11.7 billion in revenue in its most recent fiscal year.

Tesla was previously a major customer for Nvidia’s automotive chips but last year CEO Elon Musk said the electric-car pioneer was developing its own chip.

AB Volvo’s and Nvidia’s collaboration will be built on Nvidia’s full software package for sensor processing, perception, map localization and path planning.

Additional reporting by Esha Vaish; Writing by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Keith Weir and Jan Harvey

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