Is NVIDIA outpacing Apple, Google with its self-driving tech?

As the race to master self-driving car technology accelerates, some investors say Tesla Motors partner NVIDIA Corp. may have the edge over competitors Apple and Google.

According to Investors Business Daily, Wedbush Securities analyst Betsy Van Hees sees Santa Clara, Calif.-based NVIDIA as nearing a breakthrough that will bring autonomous vehicles to the next level.

Van Hees boosted her stock price target for NVIDIA partly on optimism that Nvidia’s technology could allow Audi and other automakers to create autonomous consumer cars within a year. She added that this tech will be incorporated into Audi’s A8 model next year.

The firm’s technology, which uses graphics processing unit (GPU) technology, launched its Drive PX 2 system for autonomous driving this winter. The company stated that it expects consumers will begin purchasing cars equipped with Drive PX 2 within a year.

“It will most likely be used in an autopilot function,” predicted Van Hees in a report.

On the automation scale for self-driving cars, autopilot is seen as “Level 2,” which allows feet-off and hands-off driving. Google is reportedly working on “Level 4” automation, which allows driving with no human assistance.

And no one is sure what level of automation Apple’s “Titan” project is tackling, for the tech giant is staying tight lipped about what is widely assumed to be its own self-driving car initiative.

The Drive PX 2 system produces a 360-degree visual using ultrasonic sensors. Over the next five years Nvidia said it anticipates incremental adoption of the technology.

Van Hees maintained her outperform rating on the strength of the firm’s self-driving technology advances, as well as on the company’s strong PC gaming sales and on new uses for its GPUs.

NVIDIA leads now but isn’t the only game in town

Meanwhile, NVIDIA is facing increasing competition in the race to develop the technology that the next phase of autonomous vehicle development is based on.

For example NXP Semiconductors launched its BlueBox self-driving engine last month. The firm has said it is targeting 2020 as the year it develops complete vehicular autonomy.

But where NXP bases its technology on a central computing engine, NVIDIA’s use of GPUs could give it an advantage, says MKM analyst Ian Ing.

GPUs can better handle “homogeneous and repetitive computing” which autonomous vehicles will likely demand in great quantity. This type of computing has previously been used by Nvidia processors to rapidly render images for PC gaming.

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