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Toyota-backed Startup Pony.ai Builds Autonomous Driving Computing Unit Built on the NVIDIA DRIVE Orin Processor

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【Summary】​Autonomous driving technology developer Pony.ai, which is planning to launch a robotaxi service in China using a fleet of self-driving Toyota Sienna minivans, announced the development of a complete autonomous driving computing unit built on NVIDIA’s powerful Orin system-on-a-chip (SoC). The processor is Pony.ai’s 6th generation autonomous driving system and is designed for automotive-grade mass production.

Eric Walz    Jan 20, 2022 12:15 PM PT
Toyota-backed Startup Pony.ai Builds Autonomous Driving Computing Unit Built on the NVIDIA DRIVE Orin Processor
A Toyota Sienna robotaxi outfitted with NVIDIA-powered autonomous driving technology by Pony.ai.

Toyota-backed autonomous driving technology developer Pony.ai, which is planning to launch a robotaxi service in China using a fleet of self-driving Toyota Sienna minivans, announced the development of a complete autonomous driving computing unit built on NVIDIA's powerful Orin system-on-a-chip (SoC).

The processor is Pony.ai's 6th generation autonomous driving system and is designed for automotive-grade mass production. The first Toyota Sienna vehicles equipped with the system will begin road testing in China this year.

This autonomous computing unit powered by NVIDIA DRIVE Orin will rapidly accelerate the roll-out of Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities, according to Pony.ai.

The NVIDIA DRIVE Orin SoC achieves 254 TOPS (trillion operations per second) of performance, and includes a comprehensive deep learning accelerator. It delivers the computing power required for advanced AI-powered computer vision processing.

Pony.ai's automotive-grade, high performance autonomous driving processor features low latency and high reliability. The company is one of the first in the industry to create an entire product portfolio with multiple configurations using one or more DRIVE Orin processors combined with NVIDIA's automotive-grade Ampere architecture GPUs. 

The portfolio of Pony.ai's autonomous driving units enables scalable deployment across self-driving trucks and robotaxis, and accelerates the development of a mass-production platform for self-driving vehicles. 

"By leveraging the world-class NVIDIA DRIVE Orin SoC, we're demonstrating our design and industrialization capabilities plus the ability to develop and deliver a powerful mass-production platform at an unprecedented scale. This will help us realize our vision of bringing safe autonomous mobility solutions to all," said James Peng, co-founder and CEO of Pony.ai.

Pony.ai's advanced self-driving vehicles are capable of navigating through city traffic, obeying all traffic laws, including yielding to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Pony.ai's partnership with NVIDIA is not new. The companies have been working together since 2017 when Pony.ai first adopted the powerful NVIDIA DRIVE platform to power its autonomous driving stack. 

In May 2021, Pony.ai began co-developing its DRIVE Orin-based systems with NVIDIA, leveraging the high-performance SoC to accelerate the pace of Pony.ai's hardware development.

"As a close collaborator with Pony.ai since their inception, we applaud their vision and execution with the development of their AV system architecture to bring safe, Level 4 capabilities to market," said  Gary Hicok, Senior Vice President of Engineering at NVIDIA.

Pony.ai, which was founded in 2016 in Fremont, California with the goal of building the safest and most reliable autonomous driving technology. Since then, the company has become a pioneer in autonomous mobility technologies in both the U.S. and China.

Screen Shot 2022-01-20 at 1.54.25 PM.png 

An overview of Pony.ai's NVIDIA-powered processor for autonomous driving.

Pony.ai has been testing its robotaxi service called "PonyPilot'' since late 2018 in Silicon Valley and Guangzhou, China. In Feb 2020, the startup partnered with the city of Fremont for an autonomous ride-hailing pilot for city employees. The city of Fremont is best known as the home of Tesla's U.S. factory. 

Pony.ai has since formed partnerships with leading OEMs including Toyota Motor Corp and Chinese automakers FAW Group and GAC Group. In 2020, the company announced a $400 million investment from Toyota to expand its collaboration on self-driving cars. 

Automakers around the world are investing billions in autonomous driving and related other mobility technology and are often turning to tech companies and startups like NVIDIA and Pony.ai for assistance.

Pony.ai was the first company to conduct autonomous trucking tests on an open highway in China, and is the only company with autonomous trucking permits in both Beijing and Guangzhou. It is also the first of two companies to be permitted to conduct driverless tests and charge fees for public robotaxi services in Beijing, along with permits to test autonomous vehicles in all of China's Tier-1 cities. 

In an interview with CNBC in Nov 2019, Pony.ai CEO Peng predicted that fully autonomous vehicles that carry passengers in China will be a reality in the very near future.

"If I have to give a number, I'll probably say in five years," said Peng. "We'll definitely see a wide adoption of autonomous driving vehicles—fully autonomous driving vehicles—on the open roads."

NVIDIA's Expansion into the Automotive Space

China is aiming to be a world leader in autonomous driving technologies, advanced mobility and smart cities, partly to help alleviate urban traffic congestion, especially in large cities like Beijing.

China's push to lead the world in autonomous driving technology also opens up new business opportunities for NVIDIA to supply the hardware and AI-powered software required to operate these advanced self-driving vehicles.

Earlier this month, JiDU Automotive, the new electric vehicle venture formed by China's internet technology giant Baidu Inc and Chinese automaker Geely, announced at CES it will use the NVIDIA DRIVE Orin system-on-a-chip (SoC) in its first model to support L4 autonomous driving capabilities.

JiDU's first L4 self-driving vehicle will be unveiled at the Beijing Auto Show in April, followed by mass production and delivery in 2023.

Also this month, autonomous truck developer TuSimple announced its expanding partnership with NVIDIA to design and develop an advanced "autonomous domain controller" (ADC) specifically for TuSimple's Level 4 autonomous trucking applications, the company announced on Tuesday TuSimple's ADC will also incorporate the NVIDIA DRIVE Orin system-on-a-chip (SoC).

In June of last year, automaker Volvo announced that the forthcoming electric XC90 SUV will use the powerful NVIDIA DRIVE Orin system-on-a-chip (SoC) to power its autonomous driving and safety systems.

Chinese electric vehicle startup Xpeng Motors was the first automaker in China to install NVIDIA hardware during vehicle assembly to support automated driving and safety systems. The automaker's P7 smart sedan, on sale since April 2020, is powered by the NVIDIA DRIVE AGX platform, which features the company's high-performance Xavier processor. 

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