Meet Tesla’s self-driving automobile pc and its two AI brains

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Two big, square AI processors power Tesla's third-generation full self-driving car computer. Tesla showed the computer at the Hot Chips conference.

Two huge, sq. AI processors energy Tesla’s third-generation full self-driving automobile pc. Tesla confirmed the pc on the Sizzling Chips convention.


Stephen Shankland/CNET

Designing your individual chips is difficult. However Tesla, one of the aggressive builders of autonomous automobile expertise, thinks it is value it. The corporate revealed particulars Tuesday about the way it fine-tuned its AI chip design so two of them are good sufficient to energy its automobiles’ upcoming “full self-driving” skills.

Tesla Chief Government Elon Musk and his colleagues revealed the corporate’s third-generation computing in April. However on the Sizzling Chips convention as we speak, chip designers confirmed how heavy optimizations in Tesla’s customized AI chips dramatically boosted efficiency — an element of 21 in comparison with the sooner Nvidia chips. As an added bonus, they’re solely 80% the associated fee, too.

The corporate wanted higher to realize its 2019 full self-driving objective, wherein automobiles navigate not solely freeways as as we speak but in addition native streets with cease indicators and visitors lights. “It was clear to us, so as to meet our efficiency ranges on the energy constraints and the shape issue constraints we had, we needed to design one thing of our personal,” mentioned Ganesh Venkataramanan, one of many chip designers and a former AMD processor engineer.

It is a main effort to design a processor chip. The magnitude of the work is mirrored within the gargantuan variety of transistors — 6 billion — that make up the processing circuitry on every of Tesla’s chips. However Tesla’s in-house experience, spanning every thing from processors and software program to battery manufacturing and charging stations, provides it a serious benefit over typical auto makers.

“Different automobile producers cannot compete,” mentioned New Road analyst Pierre Ferragu in an August report on Tesla. “Their enterprise mannequin does not permit them to suit all automobiles with this costly , and so they run vastly behind on expertise, relying an excessive amount of on their suppliers and unable to tightly combine , software program, and operations. Because of this, Tesla is setting the usual for mass-market autopilot.”

Two brains for self-driving security

Every Tesla pc has two AI chips, a redundant design for higher security, Venkataramanan mentioned. There’s additionally redundancy within the chips’ energy provides and knowledge enter feeds, too. Even the automobile’s cameras are on two separate energy provides to protect in opposition to failures.

“There are loads of redundancy options, which makes positive … nothing untoward occurs to the system” if a sensor, part, digital camera or energy provide fails, Venkataramanan mentioned.

Every chip makes its personal evaluation of what the automobile ought to do subsequent. The pc compares the 2 assessments, and if the chips agree, the automobile takes the motion. If the chips disagree, the automobile simply throws away that body of video knowledge and tries once more, Venkataramanan mentioned. That is one of many causes Tesla needed highly effective AI chips that might deal with such a excessive body price for video.

Extremely optimized

Every Tesla AI chip runs at 2GHz and performs 36 trillion operations per second. That efficiency is feasible as a result of Tesla optimized the chips for self-driving automobiles and dropped something extra basic goal, mentioned Debjit Das Sarma, one other Tesla chip designer and former AMD engineer.

For instance, the chip handles knowledge recorded as Eight-bit integers as a substitute of the 16-bit floating-point numbers extra frequent in AI duties however that require extra energy to course of. For an additional, it is acquired a particularly restricted set of directions it might course of. And it is acquired a gargantuan 32 megabytes of high-speed SRAM reminiscence on the chip, which implies it does not have to attend round whereas fetching knowledge from a lot slower typical DRAM reminiscence.

“Moderately than spending all the ability on these profligate issues, we needed to spend many of the power on what actually issues for us,” Das Sarma mentioned. Though Tesla designed the core AI components of the processor, it relied on off-the-shelf components for issues like graphics processing.

The AI chip took 14 months to design, and now Samsung is manufacturing the processor. It is transport in newer Tesla automobiles now, and older fashions will be upgraded.

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