By Edward Taylor and Paul Lienert
FRANKFURT (Reuters) – After advancing in the race to develop a software-based vehicle operating system, US electric car pioneer Tesla faces a new challenge from an alliance of German luxury car maker Daimler and US graphics specialist by Nvidia computer.
Daimler and Nvidia unveiled an agreement Tuesday to develop and equip the German company’s Mercedes-Benz cars with a next-generation chip and software platform that could eventually be used to help vehicles drive themselves.
The move is a response to Tesla’s ability to integrate custom-designed chips with thousands of lines of code, which has enabled the Silicon Valley-based company to develop new features faster than its competitors.
While Daimler and its German rivals Volkswagen and BMW have criticized Tesla’s aggressive marketing of its “autopilot” features, they have struggled to match the speed with which the US automaker. USA Bring innovations to the market.
Thanks to the instantly upgradeable software, Tesla cars have a longer operating range and more entertainment options than their rivals, even when struggling to increase production. According to Volkswagen, Tesla is a decade ahead of the competition.
In an attempt to narrow the gap, Mercedes, the world’s oldest automaker, has taken the unprecedented step of sharing its intellectual property with an outside technology company in exchange for access to Nvidia’s computer processors and their software specialized in artificial intelligence.
That’s a major departure from established automakers’ traditional approach of trying to go it alone, or partnering with existing suppliers and manufacturers, and marks an attempt to keep up with Tesla and pocket tech firms like Amazon and Apple.
Mercedes, Volkswagen and Audi have so far used a mosaic approach, combining vehicle platforms originally designed for combustion engines with electric vehicle software and components developed largely by outside vendors.
Rather than designing a new vehicle from scratch, German automakers have attempted to bundle software from providers of camera and radar sensors, making it difficult to upgrade their vehicles if they had used a comprehensive and upgradeable operating system.
Software and processing power are gaining importance thanks to automated driving, which requires radar, ultrasound, camera and lidar sensors to communicate with each other and to manage competitive demands on battery power.
With zero-emission cars, electricity is consumed not only through acceleration, but also by cooling the battery, air conditioners, seat heaters, infotainment in the car, image recognition, and semi-autonomous driving.
Although Tesla started with a similar mosaic approach, it has since adopted an Apple-like strategy with its iPhone: Now it designs computer chips and software in-house.
Like Apple, Tesla has redefined the way technologies are packaged, leaving analysts wondering if the auto sector will follow the phone industry, where profits shifted from the device manufacturer to producers of components and software for high technology. Frightened by Tesla’s advance, German automakers and top supplier Robert Bosch are restructuring their businesses to accommodate “software-first” operating systems, which rely on fewer chips and more powerful computers.
But they face a battle to catch up.
Traditional automakers have struggled to attract software engineering talent, in part due to a reluctance to pay big salaries for projects without a defined business case, allowing Tesla to maintain an advantage that some analysts say is getting more done. great thanks to the company’s “fleet learning”.
Tesla collects data on the battery drain rates and driving styles of all its cars, and uses it to design new software algorithms. Prioritizing power consumption has allowed Tesla to keep battery capacity above 90% even after 200,000-300,000 kilometers, or four to five years, UBS analysts said in a March 2019 report, attributing this to software, batteries and semiconductors designed by Tesla.
Teaming up with Nvidia could allow Daimler to take a shortcut to cutting-edge technology.
The results will not be immediate: jointly developed Mercedes-Nvidia vehicles are not expected to hit the road until 2024. Nvidia will help Daimler develop autonomous driving and assisted functions, which will be part of an overall vehicle system designed by Mercedes.
Chips and processors will only become more critical as automakers compete to build autonomous cars. Only one video sensor, like the Bosch Stereo Video Camera, generates 100 gigabytes of data in just a kilometer of travel, making efficient processing vital to optimizing the vehicle’s range and training vehicle reflections.
According to Harry Kroeger, former head of electronics development at Daimler, former director of Tesla and now a member of the Bosch board of directors that oversees automotive electronics, that makes them less powerful processors.
“It no longer installs a small box for each function; instead, it installs a larger smart box that can do many things simultaneously,” he said. “The computing power you need for climate control is ridiculously low compared to features that prevent the car from crashing. A smart box prioritizes safety features and uses its ‘downtime’ to focus on things like climate regulation “
(Written by Edward Taylor and Paul Lienert; additional reports by Doug Busvine; Mark Potter edition)