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Next-gen VWs to get Nvidia-powered AI at CES 2018

At CES 2018, Volkswagen and Nvidia announce a tech partnership that will let future cars recognize drivers and respond to their needs.

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz

Volkswagen hangs its technological future on the cute little I.D. Buzz, slated for production by 2022.


 Volkswagen's I.D. Buzz may seem like a typical concept car with no likelihood of production, but at CES 2018 the German automaker made it clear that this next generation electric microbus represents its future. An eventual production version of the car will play host to artificial intelligence technologies powered by chipmaker Nvidia that let it recognize its driver and passengers, and cater to their needs.

At Nvidia's CES press conference, Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess took the stage with Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang to talk about the partnership. Volkswagen will integrate Nvidia's just-announced Drive IX platform into the I.D. Buzz, which will let it recognize people as they approach the car, unlocking the door for the owner or other trusted people, and tailor the in-car experience through personalization.

Volkswagen experienced a costly road bump in the last few years when it was discovered the company had been cheating on emissions testing for its diesel vehicles. With the I.D. Buzz and other concepts under the I.D. moniker, the company seems to be looking for a reset, a new generation of electric vehicles for the next decade. Its current plans call for 20 fully electric cars from Volkswagen by 2022. The I.D. Buzz concept itself is a working prototype electric vehicle.

Nvidia Drive Xavier

Nvidia calls its Xavier chip the world's first autonomous machine processor, as it's built to analyze sensor data and make decisions for self-driving cars.


Along with electric drive systems, Volkswagen is looking to integrate future technologies, which is where Nvidia comes in. Last year, Nvidia announced its Xavier processor, designed to run its Drive software platform. Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive at Nvidia, says Xavier is two years ahead of any competitor's chip. It just began shipping. 

The Drive software platform Xavier runs consists of three main branches: Drive AV enables self-driving cars, Drive IX creates advanced user experiences, and developers can use Drive AR to build augmented reality applications for cars, such as navigation and safety systems that highlight actual things around the car with graphics projected on the windows and windshields.

While Nvidia previously announced Drive AV, Huang used CES 2018 to introduce Drive IX and Drive AR.

The initial focus for Volkswagen with the I.D. Buzz is to build what it's calling an Intelligent Co-Pilot, an in-car virtual assistant powered by Nvidia hardware and software. It will use sensors to recognize passengers, automatically engaging their saved settings, such as seat positions, and recognize natural language commands so passengers can ask for destinations and entertainment.

Volkswagen will also be developing self-driving capabilities using the Nvidia technology. And Nvidia said it's partnered with over 300 companies, including Uber and China's Baidu and ZF.

As part of what it more generally calls the "software-defined car," Nvidia's Drive platform allows for over-the-air updates, much as your phone's operating system can be updated remotely to enable new features.

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CES 2018: CNET's complete coverage of tech's biggest show.