Autonomous trucking company TuSimple is preparing to scale its self-driving tech with the help of Nvidia's newest system-on-a-chip (SoC), Drive Orin, the company announced at CES. The chip, which is specifically made for autonomous applications, will provide the robust, compact, energy efficient and auto-grade compute power necessary to accelerate TuSimple's race to get its self-driving trucks to market.
The relationship between Nvidia and TuSimple has been going on for years, with Nvidia leading TuSimple's Series B round in 2017. Drive Orin is part of Nvidia's Hyperion 8, a production-ready platform that includes sensors, compute and software needed for AV development, which came to market in November. While TuSimple will choose its own sensors and use in-house-built software, it will rely on Drive Orin's SoC to co-develop its autonomous domain control (ADC), the truck's central computational unit.
The ADC houses TuSimple's virtual driver software, takes inputs from all different sensors and gives outputs in the form of commands to the different parts of the truck to control it, according to CEO and president of TuSimple, Cheng Lu. Drive Orin has sufficient computational power and is compact enough to help TuSimple accelerate its ability to put at scale autonomous trucks on its autonomous freight network.
"Without an auto-grade ADC, it's not possible for any OEM or autonomous technology player to have scaled production of AV trucks on the road," Lu told TechCrunch. "Today we use prototype systems that are costly, and not as reliable. It works for a small batch of vehicles, but would not work when you manufacture integrated AV trucks at the OEM at scale."
Last week, TuSimple completed its first fully autonomous, driverless truck pilot on the I-10 in Arizona, a milestone that brings the company that much closer to scaling its tech into purpose-built trucks over the next three years. TuSimple plans to build semi trucks specifically designed for autonomous applications by 2024 in partnership with Navistar and the Traton Group, Volkswagen AG's heavy truck business, but Lu says the Nvidia collaboration is independent of the production programs with those OEMs and did not comment on what ADC the company will use in those trucks.
The Drive Orin SoC delivers 254 trillion operations per second of performance, including perception, planning and actuation functions, according to TuSimple. Along with this most critical hardware component of the ADC, Nvidia brings to the partnership a good understanding of the design and placement of chips into a computational box to make them work most efficiently, says Lu. Because TuSimple's software is embedded into the ADC, the company provides requirements like specific computational needs, sensors and power usage.
"Together, we make a blueprint of what the entire ADC needs to be from a hardware perspective, and a third-party manufacturer will produce and assemble a complete ADC," said Lu.
TuSimple owns usage rights, which includes certain limited "first-use" provisions, to the ADC reference design, according to a statement from the company.