May 6, 2020

Xpeng Launches First Production Electric Car Using Nividia’s High-Powered Xavier Chip

Xpeng Launches First Production Electric Car Using Nividia’s High-Powered Xavier Chip


Chinese electric vehicle startup Xpeng has just launched its second production model, the P7 sedan, which includes at least two industry firsts. The P7 is the production vehicle to take advantage of Nvidia

NVDA
’s Xavier system on a chip (SoC). Thanks in part to that piece of silicon, it’s also the first production vehicle to go on sale with a level 3 (L3) conditionally automated driving system.

Nvidia first announced the Xavier back in September 2016 and started shipping samples to customers in 2018. Xavier was designed as a next-generation single-chip follow-up to Nvidia’s popular Drive PX2 development compute platform for automated driving. Drive PX2 was based on the combination of earlier generation Parker SoCs and Pascal GPUs. 

Like the Parker SoC, Xavier is based on ARM processor cores, although the newer chip doubles the number to eight. Xavier also includes a newer Volta graphics processor similar to those used in the GTX 1080 and 1060 computer video cards as well as a tensor processing unit to help accelerate deep learning functions. All together, this gives claimed performance of 30 trillion operations per second (TOPS) with a power consumption of just 30W. 

At the time that Xavier was launched, it was expected that the 30 TOPS it offered would be sufficient for L4 highly automated driving since that was 15,000 times the processing capacity of the computers in the Carnegie Mellon Chevrolet Tahoe that won the DARPA Grand Challenge a decade earlier. Needless to say, as work on highly automated driving has progressed, it has become clear that more computing grunt will be needed to make automated vehicles safe and reliable. Thus in late 2019, Nvidia launched the 200 TOPS Orin SoC and Qualcomm

QCOM
announced it’s Snapdragon Ride platform that can scale up to a claimed 700 TOPS. 

That doesn’t mean Xavier has lost its market. In addition to Xpeng, several other suppliers have announced plans to launch so-called L2+ partially automated systems as well as some L3 systems using Xavier-based platforms. Tier one automotive suppliers TRW, Bosch and Continental will each offer Xavier-powered driver assist and partial automation. 

According to Nvidia’s senior director of automotive Danny Shapiro, at least two more automakers in addition to Xpeng will launch systems this year. We may get a look at which companies those are during the online keynote from Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang set to be streamed on May 14, 2020. 

For now, Xpeng’s P7 is the only model confirmed and the manufacturer calls XPilot 3.0 an L3 advanced driver assist system (ADAS). Audi had announced plans to add an L3 Traffic Jam Pilot system when it launched the current-generation A8 in late 2017 but the system was never actually launched due to concerns with performance and regulations. Audi recently announced that it would not deploy the system on the current generation A8.  

While XPilot 3.0 doesn’t have any lidar, it does have more sensors and greater redundancy than Tesla

TSLA
’s Autopilot hardware suite. Like Tesla, the P7 has 12 ultrasonic sensors, but the camera count is increased from 8 to 14. Tesla tries to get by with just a single forward facing radar sensor, whereas Xpeng has five with four corner radars joining the one in the front. This is similar to the configuration that GM uses with Super Cruise. 

While ultrasonic sensors are low-cost, they are limited to just a few meters in detection range and can’t detect where an object is, only how far it is. Radar provides more detailed information about location and speed, which makes it more capable for detecting cut-ins. This functionality is apparently aimed at urban driving to provide automatic braking to avoid collisions. 

Xpeng hasn’t responded to inquiries for more details on the precise functionality of Xpliot 3.0, but based on available information on the website, it appears that it will be an automated highway mode. Recently Changan Automobiles announced its Uni-T, a crossover also claimed to have an L3 automation system for highway driving. 

At a national level, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Road Traffic Safety currently mandates that drivers must keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times, thus making a hands-off L3 system illegal. It’s unclear if Xpeng and Changan have received clearance to provide hands-off capability from local authorities in certain areas. With both domestic Chinese brands as well as European brands like Volvo and BMW planning to launch L3 systems, it seems likely that the regulations will have to change in the not too distant future. 



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