08 January 2014

Nvidia chips will power Audi’s next car, TEGRA K1

Summary: Tegra chipsets are making their way into new Audis and other vehicles in the form of Nvidia’s new Visual Computing Module line. Nvidia hopes make cars future-proof with its new upgradable design.

Nvidia has positioned its new K1 192-core chip as the brains of powerful autonomous vehicle and connected car systems in the future, but it will be a while before one actually makes it in a production dashboard. But Nvidia’s lesser, but still quite powerful, Visual Computing Module (VCM) chips are making their way into new Audi cars shipping this year.

Audi is using Nvidia’s VCM based on the Tegra 3 architecture in its latest version of its connected car system, Audi Connect. The new console will double the performance power of this model year’s infotainment system, and will be gradually rolled out in new Audi vehicles starting this year. Audi is also using a Tegra 3 VCM in a new high-definition 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that will debut in the 2015 TT Sports Coup.

Finally an Nvidia Tegra 4 is powering a new car companion tablet Audi showed off at CES, called Smart Display. The Android tablet is designed to fit into a mount in the rear seat and connect to the infotainment system.

Nvidia has some interesting automotive ambitions. Most notably it’s trying to create car application processors that can be easily upgraded, so vehicles can keep up with the very increasing power of consumer electronics no matter how long we own them. To that end it’s building its VCM automotive chips around an architecture called Jetson, which makes the processor modular.

In practice, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to slot a K1 VCM into the Tegra 4-powered Audi you buy this year like you would a memory pack in your old Nintendo 64 though that is Nvidia’s eventual goal. But an automaker could use Jetson to ensure every new car has the newest generation technology without having to overhaul its infotainment system every year.

So far, Nvidia’s new VCM chips have landed in Audi and BMW’s newest vehicles so just like the consumer electronics markets it’s targeting the high-end of the market. It also has familiar competition in automotive. Nvidia’s nemesis in the smartphone processor space Qualcomm announced at CES its intentions to build its own connected car chips making for a bumpy ride on the road to powering cars with silicon.

Now read: Audi taps AT&T for its 4G car; demos its future connected vehicle


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