Within the last week, we’ve had two key announcements about self-driving trucks. One leader in autonomous driving tech is pushing its technology ahead, while another is pulling its plans back, and these two companies have been linked in the not-so-distant past. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said late Friday that they have pushed back their electric semi-truck unveiling a bit, partially due to the production bottleneck with the Model 3.
However, the NVIDIA self-driving truck and taxi technology pushed the company’s stock to a new record high on Tuesday. The news echoes some of what Deutsche Bank analysts said in a report last month regarding semiconductor companies and autonomous driving tech, which is probably why NVIDIA stock hit a record high. The race is on among self-driving tech firms to reach Level Five fully autonomous vehicles, and NVIDIA is a bit like David in the fight against Goliath, the little guy up against much bigger rivals.
CNBC’s Jim Cramer seems to agree, as he said on the TV network’s “Mad Dash” segment that the hardware for the NVIDIA self-driving truck “is going to change everything.” The chip maker has packed the power of 100 data center servers into a device that’s the size of a license plate. The device can compute 320 trillion operations a second.
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There are many applications that this device could be used for, but self-driving cars is the obvious possibility. The chip maker claims that it is the first artificial intelligence computer system that’s capable of driving robo-taxis that are fully autonomous. Further, the company plans to build a fleet of NVIDIA self-driving trucks based on the computer system, which it calls Pegasus. NVIDIA said that Pegasus is designed for “truly level 5 driving,” which means that the vehicles won’t even have a steering wheel or gas or brake pedal.
NVIDIA is partnering with several companies to build robo-taxis, although it wouldn’t name any of them. In addition to Pegasus, the chip maker also announced today that it’s working with the automotive supplier ZF to build a test fleet of autonomous trucks for Deutsche Post DHL Group, the biggest delivery and mail service in the world.
Deutsche Post will transform its StreetScooter electric trucks with ProAI, the autonomous driving system developed by ZF. ProAI is powered by the NVIDIA self-driving truck technology and contains a sensor package which includes everything from cameras to radar and LiDAR. The companies unveiled a prototype delivery vehicle on Tuesday.
The prototype is certainly a step toward the future that analysts covering electric and self-driving car companies and suppliers are looking forward to. Deutsche Bank analysts wrote a lengthy report on electric and autonomous truck technology last month, and one area of focus was on increasing the “amount of semiconductor content per truck” in the next few years. The NVIDIA self-driving truck technology certainly fits the bill, and it’s why investors excitedly pushed the chip maker’s stock through the roof on Tuesday.
The partnership with DP is just for delivery trucks, but of course there is a much bigger world of commercial vehicles and semis that could eventually be electrified and turned autonomous. Deutsche Bank analysts wrote that Levels One and Two autonomous driving probably wouldn’t increase the number of chips used in commercial vehicles much, but Levels Three through Five probably will. Level Five is what the NVIDIA self-driving truck technology is all about: fully autonomous trucks.
Deutsche Bank said that full automation should bring “a cocoon of radar, vision and likely also LiDAR around the entire truck,” which is what NVIDIA’s partnership with ZF seems to be. It’s the gold standard for autonomous driving, which is why investors are so hot for the chip maker’s stock right now.
Interestingly, Deutsche Bank’s report revealed that NVIDIA was the smallest of all the self-driving vehicle stocks based on percentage of sales. The question now will be whether the company really can beat down all the giants that are currently on top right now:
NVIDIA stock rocketed to a high of $193.95 on Tuesday after its two announcements about autonomous driving tech.